Two days into the Second Battle of Fallujah, Coalition forces appear to be making stunning progress. Toby Harnden continues his ride with the Phantoms of Task Force 2-2, composed of elements of the 1st Infantry Division. This unit entered the fray in the Askari district, in the upper Northeast corner of Fallujah (see map below for details). The Phantoms have swept through Askari and overtaken the industrial district with little resistance.
The Washington Post reports that a psyops exercise is being conducted on the streets of Fallujah. The Americans are taunting the terrorists in their own language, appealing to their sense of manhood and encouraging them to come out and fight.
A psychological operations unit broadcast announcements in Arabic meant to draw out gunmen. An Iraqi translator from the group said through a loudspeaker: “Brave terrorists, I am waiting here for the brave terrorists. Come and kill us. Plant small bombs on roadsides. Attention, attention, terrorists of Fallujah.”
The Washington Post also indicates that about one third of Fallujah is under Coalition control. The New York Times echoes this, and states that the main road through Fallujah, Route 10, and other key features of the city have been wrested from the control of the insurgents. It is not clear if Jolan has been completely taken but at the least has been cut off as planned. The Marines state that Jolan has been overrun, but local Iraqis disagree.
By evening there was a lull in the fighting, and American tanks and other units were patrolling along the main east-west road through Falluja, variously called Main Street, Highway 10 and, by the Americans, Route Michigan. Relentless airstrikes and artillery fire abated, at least momentarily. First Lt. Lyle L. Gilbert, a spokesman for the First Marine Expeditionary Force, said American and Iraqi forces controlled at least a third of the city.
Military officials said the invading force also quickly overran Jolan, the northwestern sector thought to hold as many as 1,000 of the most hardened resistance fighters. The officials said surveillance showed the American-led force moving steadily southward along main arterials and passing through the twisting alleys of Jolan, which was thought to pose a special challenge because of its dense network of ancient streets. Early in the day, the troops secured a park in the Jolan area that had been one of their major early objectives, military officials said.
But two residents who have remained in the city, Ahmad Abdul Jabbar and Talaat Naji, said the bulk of the American forces appeared to stay on a main north-south road on the eastern edge of Jolan, called April 7 Street, and bypass the neighborhood proper. Mr. Naji said there was only sporadic firing in Jolan. The American military stopped short of entering Jolan during the military operation in Falluja in April. But Mr. Naji said he saw brisk fighting in the southwestern neighborhoods of Resala and Nazal.
The insurgents could be seen on radar images collapsing southward in a central corridor toward the more modern southern neighborhood of Shuhada, the military said. That area, known to American military planners as Queens, was the source of most of the mortars that rained down on marines and soldiers as they pressed southward in the invasion, officials said.
Whether Jolan has been fully retaken (which I consider highly optimistic) or not, Fallujah appears to have been effectively partitioned. The Coalition can now proceed to gather further intelligence and to break apart the terrorist enclaves, whose effectiveness is reduced as supplies dwindle and mobility is denied. The insurgents are being driven to the southwest portion of the city (Southwest Fallujah and the Shuhada district), which sits between Route 10 to the North, the Euphrates Rive to the West, the industrial park to the East and desert and farmlands to the south. The Euphrates will be heavily patrolled and the British Black Watch Regiment sits to the West waiting for terrorists to flee via that route. Route 10 and the Industrial park will have clear lanes of fire and will also be heavily patrolled for insurgents fleeing the kill zone. The route South of Fallujah leads to open killing fields, and while it has not been reported, it is highly likely a blocking force is situated in this area.
Casualties have been astonishingly low for two days of operations. Ten Americans and two Iraqis have been reported to have been killed, with dozens wounded. American troops appear to be providing the invasion punch while Iraqi forces are mopping up behind the lines, securing sensitive sites such as mosques and schools, as well as clearing the scattered resistance, patrolling the neighborhoods and providing humanitarian assistance to the residents who remain.
Casualty figures for the terrorists and insurgents are not available, however anecdotal reports indicate the scene of the battle is grim.
On Tuesday night, Fallujah’s eerily empty streets were littered with shattered concrete and dead bodies, said a resident shaken by a missile strike on the second story of his family home. Insurgents cloaked in checkered head scarves carried wounded fellow fighters to mosque…. The Jolan and Askali neighborhoods seemed particularly hard hit, with more than half of the houses destroyed. Dead bodies were scattered on the streets and narrow alleys of Jolan, one of Fallujah’s oldest neighborhoods. Blood and flesh were splattered on the walls of some of the houses, witnesses said, and the streets were full of holes.
Prior to the battle, members of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s newly minted al Qaeda in Iraq (formerly Tawhid and Jihad) vowed that they will remain in the city and fight to the death. These men have flocked to Iraq to fight Americas, providing evidence that Iraq has become a magnet for al Qaeda resources.
Dressed alike, the men were as different as their accents, a new generation of the jihad diaspora, arriving in Fallujah from all over the Arab world: five Saudis, three Tunisians, a Yemeni. Only three were Iraqis.
“I had a vision yesterday that tomorrow I would finally be granted the martyrdom,” said the latest arrival, a thin man in his early twenties. He had come from his home in Saudi Arabia just a week ago. “This is not fair,” replied the Yemeni, making a joke. “I have been here for months now.”
“Don’t worry, Abu Hafsa,” said one of the Tunisians, heavyset and talkative. “It is either victory or martyrdom, and both are great honors.”
The jihadis in Fallujah must know by now that victory is unobtainable. Let them face the Marines and soldiers and be martyrs to their losing cause. Buoyed by past successes in Afghanistan and Grozny against the Russians, and Mogadishu against the Americans, al Qaeda has underestimated the fighting resolve and acumen of the American soldier. Fallujah has demonstrated that American forces are more than capable in neutralizing guerilla forces that have entrenched themselves in a city. The crude defenses built up over seven months are no match for the combination of speed, firepower, intelligence gathering, training and networking of forces applied against them. These are skills the United States military will retain, refine and disseminate for use in future conflicts. Our lethality in fighting asymmetrical conflicts is but in its infancy, and our will to fight is growing stronger. The days of Mogadishu are over; American now has Fallujah to serve as a guide in the future.
(Note: the map used in this post has been copied from Global Security; the main roads are highlighted in green. I have modified this map to include Route 10, the Railroad, suspected Coalition positions and advances and other features.)
Click on the map for a larger image.
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