The Second Battle of Fallujah has begun. After weeks of failed attempts to negotiate with the various indigenous local factions, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has declared a state of emergency and has given the vast forces arrayed against Fallujah the permission to attack. The Adventures of Chester provides the order of battle, which is a mix of American Marines, The British Black Watch Regiment and 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards, Iraqi forces and possibly the U.S. Army’s 10
American and Iraq troops have begun the assault from the West, across the Euphrates river, and have captured two bridges and a hospital (see this map for a detailed image of Fallujah; additional maps are available here). The hospital was captured by members of the Iraqi Special Forces. Fallujah is effectively surrounded, and the large scale retreat of insurgents to the West towards friendly Syria have been cut off.
Chester points out a crucial part of the operation, the planning phase, in which military planners have had seven months to learn from their successful military operations in Fallujah last Spring. The failure last March-April in Fallujah was not a military failure, but a political failure, as the American government and the Iraqi Government Council attempted to find a political solution by having the now dissolved Fallujah Brigade police the city.
It has now been 7 months since that assault. Our planners have had 7 months to focus all of their energies on how best to crack the Sunni triangle nut. This means both the Division planners and the higher headquarters MEF planners. Somewhere between 500-1000 field grade officers doing nothing but thinking about this. Most of the rest of the operations have probably been on relative auto-pilot, as it is really a logistics function to track and plan for reconstruction and the sustenance of the units involved in it.
When you couple this fact of detailed operational planning with what we can certainly estimate is far better intelligence, and a larger number of both US and Iraqi troops, I think it makes a compelling case for a shorter battle. So I change my estimate to one week, with two being a maximum.
Retaking a city the size of Fallujah in less than two weeks would be yet another astonishing military victory in the war, which would include the three week defeat of Saddam’s standing army and the defeat of the Taliban in less than two months in rugged Afghanistan. Other than the degree of casualties and the fate of Zarqawi, there are few doubts about the outcome of the operation. Fallujah will not remain under the control of insurgents and terrorists. Belmont Club believes Zarqawi will stay and fight, as al Qaeda needs bases to effectively conduct operations against American forces.
“One partial answer is that Zarqawi will fight for Falluja for the same reasons he wanted it in the first place. Anecdotal evidence in April 2004 suggested that many bunkers had been built. The secondary explosions from US strikes over the last days implies that a lot of explosive has also been stored up. Zarqawi had invested quite a lot of effort into Fallujah and he would have done this only if it were valuable to him. The interesting and apparently paradoxical thing about terrorism — which is often characterized as rootless and spectral — is how rooted it is in sanctuaries, an apparent indication of their utility. Whether South Waziristan, Pankasi Gorge, the Bekaa Valley, Fallujah or the banlieus of Paris, terrorism apparently needs some locus in order to exert a material force.”
Zarqawi’s choice to fight in Fallujah would be beneficial to America and Iraq, it would be ideal if we were able to capture him and interrogate him with the intentions of discerning the nature and extent of his network in Iraq, Jordan and in Europe. Absent of his capture, his death is greatly desired. His is a most dangerous man, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Coalition forces and Iraqi civilians.
But if Zarqawi decides to flee Fallujah, this would be another demonstration of the ineffectiveness of the Islamofascist movement. While he would remain on the loose and continue to be a dangerous adversary, his retreat from the battlefield would be yet another blow to the prestige of the jihadis. Al Qaeda and its allies have yet to score a strategic military victory against the American led forces. Like bin Laden’s purported escape from Tora Bora, Mullah Omar’s desertion of the Taliban movement and a host of other battlefield losses, al Qaeda has suffered immensely. They have done nothing but yield ground, and their only recourse is to attack with terror – suicide bombings, beheadings and an assortment of other tactics that can only defeat an enemy with a weak will.
Osama bin Laden attacked us because he believed we were weak and unwilling to fight, and believed his actions against America would cause the Islamic world to unite around his cause. In his own words, “when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.” Al Qaeda has suffered defeat after defeat, and has performed retreat after retreat. Right now, al Qaeda’s horse is looking mighty sick; the reduction of Fallujah as a base of support for Zarqawi would be a severe case of colic to al Qaeda’s steed.