The Weak Horse

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 10th Special forces. According to CENTCOM, the “Iraqi forces will comprise a major element of the assault including five Iraqi army battalions, Iraqi Special Operations Force elements, Special Police Commando Battalions, and Iraqi National Guard elements.” This is equivalent to a brigade-plus sized force. The combined weight of American and Coalition power will be on display, including precision aerial strikes with GPS guided JDAM munitions, AC-130U Spectre gunships capable of firing cannon and howitzer rounds, Predator drones that provide real-time intelligence and strike capabilities, and aerial and ground controlled robotic devices.

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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.


  • socialism_is_error says:

    On the money, Bill, particularly with the closing political considerations.
    I was very pleased with your inclusion of a debunking of the myth of the original “failure” in Fallujah. It is probably inevitable that such things will occur as we test the Iraqis ability to take the lead in these operations along the road to ultimate self-sufficiency.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Thanks. People tend to look at the little picture too closely. We need to remember how badly we are beating the Islamofascists whenever we do meet them in battle. They see a bombing, or a beheading, and despair, while we continue to deny these murderers safe hevens.
    People also want war to be mistake free, but fail to understand that war at times can be trial & error. It would be a miserable failure if we tried to negotiate our way out of the Fallujah assualt twice, unless this time they handed us Zarqawi and his network and allowed the Iraqi Army to patrol for real, not with a weak Fallujah Brigade. The Iraqi government learned a harse lesson last Spring in Falujah and this Summer in Najaf. It should help them to become more decisive in the future.

  • MyssiAnn says:

    Another spot on analysis, Bill. Coalition forces will be sucessful in Fallujah, despite Kofi Annan’s encouring the terrorists by asking us not to attack. (Can you tell that still burns me up? What an insufferable so-and-so that man is.) And when they are, Iraq will be that much safer and closer to democracy. Ignore the Man and his co-workers are in my prayers today and every day. There will never be enough ways to thank them.

  • Bill K says:

    Isn’t it unfortunate that we no longer get the daily denigration of our troops from our soon to be Canadian citizens friends on the political left, led by their puppet-in-chief, John Skerry?
    Ahhh, breathe in the fresh air.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I have become numb about the UN and Kofi Annan’s attitude towards the United States, but definitely understand your fealings.
    There is no proper way for us to thank the servicemen who fight for us daily. What they do for us goes beyond words and deeds.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Bill K.,
    Rumor has it the media will be more inclined to change their spin and report good news from Iraq, as now that their man has lost, it is in our country’s best interests. I hope this is true (I have seen anecdotal evidence of this in readings) but somehow doubt it in the long run (see Vietnam).

  • Korla Pundit says:

    I don’t think the previous Fallujah business was so much a political failure as it was a necessary phase of “kitten training.”

    Last month, I compared our situation with the burgeoning Iraqi armed forces to the manner in which cats teach their kittens to hunt and kill mice:

    The analogy seems to fit, considering developments since.

  • Justin B says:

    The delays in Fallujah only served to help our cause. Every day we train more Iraqis to fight the battle and the Iraqi Army gets more and more disciplined. Every time the Insurgents kill innocent Iraqis it weakens the allure of their cause.

    It is going to be fairly tough for Radical Islam to have the same appeal in Iraq as in Iran or Syria since Iraq has been ruled for the last 30 years as a secular dictatorship. I think that Saddam’s secular views actually work to our advantage.

  • Beard says:

    Justin B writes: “I think that Saddam’s secular views actually work to our advantage.”
    Oh, yes, I agree completely. This was one reason why some of us never believed that Saddam would *ever* give WMD to Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, with the possible exception of to avenge his own death. Saddam was a control freak, and to hand over serious weapons to groups he didn’t and couldn’t control, and who disagreed with him in such fundamental ways, would be totally out of character for him.
    I agree that Fallujah must be taken, and the insurgents there must be dealt with. I hope this is accomplished swiftly, efficiently, and with minimum loss of life, ours and theirs. Including theirs: I would much rather have the bad guys in prison and under interrogation than dead.
    My impression is that our forces have been making substantial efforts to drive a wedge between the non-Iraqi insurgents and the Iraqi resistance, hoping that most of the fighters left in Fallujah are the non-Iraqi insurgents. This seems extremely wise to me.
    Consider the Iraqi resistance. Doubtless some of them are Saddam loyalists, but how many do you suppose are just Iraqi patriots who just want the occupying forces out? I didn’t say they are smart, and recognize the consequences of US forces leaving. But it makes sense to me that a lot of the domestic Iraqi resistance consists of people just trying to regain control of their own country. We would be wise to recognize this.
    If we want the Iraq war to end favorably to us, we need those people to change their minds and make common cause with us. Preferably to throw out the foreign insurgents.
    This, of course, is one of the reasons why Abu Ghraib was such a disaster for us. It cemented the position of this domestic constituency against us. I hope we can crack it loose, rather than somehow making it worse.

  • Justin B says:

    Abu Ghraib was a disaster. Part of that was due to damage caused by Kerry and others trying to exploit it for personal gain and making it appear that our leadership from the top down condoned this kind of behavior. If we stood united and rightly blamed the people committing these crimes and publicly acknoledged that this is not the “American Way” and that this behavior is not condoned by our leaders, the situation would have been much easier diffused.

    Where did those abuse photo’s first surface? Oh, yeah, it was on CBS’s 60 Minutes wasn’t it. At least 60 Minutes didn’t use photoshop to create the pictures, unlike the memo’s that they ran. I give credit that 60 Minutes held off on airing the photos at the Pentagon’s request for two weeks, but those photos emboldened the resistance and our media was not motivated by the “truth” to air them, but rather by the MSM’s desire to make Bush look bad. Again, it affected our troops in the field, and I think this is shameful. But then again our military has a history of razing villages in a manner reminiscent of Ghengis Khan…

  • Korla Pundit says:

    But it makes sense to me that a lot of the domestic Iraqi resistance consists of people just trying to regain control of their own country.

    No, if they wanted the U.S. out, they know the fastest way to accomplish that would be to participate in stabilizing the country and allowing the contractors to rebuild their infrastructure.

    What the “insurgents” hope to accomplish is to prevent a democracy from taking hold, because they have lost the artificial Sunni dominance over Iraq, and a Shiite democracy is the most dangerous threat to the Sunni/Al Qaeda world.

    Sure, they would like us to leave, but only so they could have a civil war, kill millions of Shiites, prevent any democratic regime, and install a new Taliban.

    These are not people whose views we should take into consideration. They have to become ex-people.


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