Fallujah Today, and on Route Mobile

Patroling one of the two main arteries through the Fallujah region

The city of Fallujah and its surrounding environs has both a symbolic and strategic importance to the security of Iraq. Fallujah is the city where al Qaeda fought the U.S. forces toe-to-toe and lost. Fallujah is a rallying call to al Qaeda. The city also serves as the gateway to Baghdad, the end of the line of al Qaeda’s Syrian ratlines which are used to run foreign fighters, money and weapons into the capital.

Fallujah was where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi set up his first infamous Islamic Emirate in Iraq during the spring of 2004. In March of that year, al Qaeda in Iraq ambushed a Blackwater convoy on Fallujah’s North Bridge, and murdered, burned and hanged the bodies of Americans from the bridge, sparking the first assault on the city by U.S. Marines. President Bush halted the assault due to political pressures both at home and from Iraqi’s fledgling interim governing council.

Over the course of the summer and fall of 2004, the Fallujah Brigade, an Iraq National Guard unit created to secure the city, was massacred by al Qaeda in Iraq. The commander and other officers were either murdered or intimidated, and some of the members of the unit abandoned their posts out of fear or defected to al Qaeda. Zarqawi conducted a campaign of terror in Fallujah, and beheaded and tortured those who opposed him. When Fallujah was freed during Operation al-Fajr (Dawn) in November of 2004, numerous torture chambers were uncovered throughout the city.

The liberation of Fallujah was followed by a sweep of western Anbar province by the Coalition and Iraqi Army forces, which cleared al Qaeda and the insurgency from Husaybah on the Syrian border to Haditha, just west of Ramadi. The provincial capital of Ramadi was never cleared, and al Qaeda established a base of operations in the city. Ramadi remains an al Qaeda sanctuary to this day.

Because of the failure to deal with Ramadi, the Fallujah area of operations remains a ‘hot AO.’ The region is managed by Marine Regimental Combat Team – 5 and three brigades of the 1st Iraqi Army and local Iraqi police forces. RCT-5 and th Iraqi Army patrol the region from Ramadi to the west to Abu Ghraib in the east, and as far north as Lake Thar Thar and south as Amariyah. The region in and around Habbaniyah, which sits between Fallujah and Ramadi, is particularly dangerous.

In the Fallujah area of operations, each Iraqi Army brigade is paired up with a battalion of Marines. Also, there are Military and Police Transition Teams (MTTs/PPTs) embedded with the Iraqi formations.

The 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines is paired with the 4th Iraqi Army Brigade, and owns the region north of Fallujah, where both maintain forward operating bases (FOBs). The 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines is paired with the 3rd Iraqi Army Brigade, and owns the region east of Fallujah, including Habbaniyah.

The 1/24 Marine battlaion is paired with the 2nd Iraqi Army Brigade, and controls the city and the region to the east up to Abu Ghraib. In Fallujah proper, there is a company of Marines from the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines – about 300 Marines, along with a battalion of Iraqi Army (about 800 troops) and about 700 local police. After Operation al-Fajr, there were 1,500 Marines, 300 Iraqi troops and no police.

The region south of Fallujah is patrolled by the Marines of the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, including the towns of Amaryiah and Ferris. The regiment also has three additional companies – B, 2nd Tank Battalion, B 2nd Assault Amphibious Battalion and C, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion – and an artillery battery – I, 3/12 stationed out of Camp Fallujah, which sits on the outskirts east of Fallujah.

I embedded with the ‘Gators,’ the Marines of Bravo Company, 2nd Assault Amphibious Battalion, commanded by Captain Eric Dominijanni. The traditional mission of an Assault Amphibious Battalion is to land Marines on the beach, using their huge Amphibious Assault Vehicles (or AAVs), which hold up to 20 Marines and a crew of three.

Here in Iraq, the mission has changed. The Gators have been assigned to patrol Route Mobile, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Route Mobile, which, along with Route Michigan, are the two largest roads running east-west through Anbar province.

Today I patrolled Route Mobile with the Marines of 2nd Platoon, 3rd Section, led by Staff Sergeant Joshua Meyers. The section calls itself The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. There a four tracks to a section, and 2nd Platoon, 3rd Section’s AAVs are aptly named White Horse, Red Horse, Black Horse, and Pale Horse. I accompanied Red Horse, commanded by Sergeant Joseph Borgard.

This route can be dangerous. Insurgents drop roadside bombs out of cars, place them in craters or dig holes and bury them, in an attempt to kill Marines and destroy their vehicles. Four AAVs have been disabled in the three months since Bravo Company has been in theater, and the company was hit three times over the past week. A Marine was killed during one of these strikes.

Most of the patrols are uneventful however. Many of the roadside bombs are easily spotted and subsequently destroyed by an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team. Today’s patrol also was uneventful, which is “typical,” according ‘Doc’ Eric Hughes, the Navy Corpsman assigned to the section.

We patrolled the entire length of the Gator’s section of the road, beginning in an area north of Habbaniyah almost all the way to Abu Ghraib. The section stopped a car of four Iraqi males and searched it, and found nothing (they appeared to be students based on the textbooks.) We also ran across an ambulance on the side of the road, with its windows blown out and tires shot. The Iraqi Highway Patrol was there first, and left after we arrived, as they wanted the Marines to tow the truck. The Iraqi police showed up and towed the ambulance away.

Route Mobile had a heavy security presence. During the patrol, we saw two Iraqi Police patrols, a Highway Police patrol, an Iraqi Army patrol and two convoys of Marines. Despite this presence, which the Marines also said was typical, black scars of bomb blasts were seen on the asphalt. Many of the roadside bombs were what are called “pop & drops” – when a roadside bomb is armed, then hastily dropped from a vehicle. These often can be more dangerous to the insurgents.”Some of these guys get killed planting those,” said Corporal Dave Guerra, as the devices can detonate prematurely.

Late in the evening, we stopped to provide overwatch on a section of Route Mobile. This was the same area where the Marine from Bravo Company was killed. An Iraqi family came out and the Marines gave them Meals, Ready to Eat and some candy and snacks. We pulled away after a cool, dust sunset and headed back to Camp Fallujah.

After the mission, the Marines discussed the effectiveness of the Iraqi Army and Police. They spoke highly of the Army. “Those guys are motivated, they will wave to you,” said SSgt Meyer. This is no surprise, as the 1st Division is the oldest and most seasoned division in the Army. But both Sgt Borgard and SSgt Meyer were less kind to the police, whom they described as “corrupt” and “gangsters.”

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

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16 Comments

  • keo says:

    Iraq police probably lost credibility after the assassinations of the 10 diplomats after Plame admitted she was a CIA Operations Officer, paramilitarily trained, in ‘Vanity Fair.’ The Diplomats and Operations Officers came for several countries including Spain, which was attacked during the Madrid bombing.
    It would be great to see the Iraqi police recover, but, after those assassinations everything went way down hill. Maybe working closely with CIA was a mistake, but I thoght, most had been either killed or sent to jail since the madrid courts ended their inquiry and went to trial.
    There must be some plan to recover the police and get them working?

  • serurier says:

    I hear 10 US soldiers be killed today , but I can’t find news from MNF web site .

  • Rubin says:

    Stay Safe Bill,
    and say hi to the Best of us.

  • Tincan Sailor says:

    Tincan Sailor AKA Bob Kausen from Nampa
    Idaho Bill watch your 6….

  • HK_Vol says:

    Why the hesitancy to clear out Ramadi?
    It sounds like clearing it up would relieve a lot of pressure elsewhere.
    Sounds like martial law should be in order. Put the army in charge of everything rather than the police. And start over with a completely new police force with Iraqi soldiers embedded with the police force.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    HK_Vol:
    – Ramadi has been slowly and systematicaly being cleared. Block by block. I am waiting for Bill to get up there to get a read on how it has gone over the year since he was last there.
    – Last I checked the IA 1st and 7th Divisions (Anbar) are seriously undermanned.
    – Since the individual replacement program is partialy delayed by the stand up of new formations, it will be May-Jul before they are brought up to full strength.
    – The IA does not have the experienced personnel to spare to embed and form new units. Especially competant NCOs. They have a serious shortage there…
    – That means the US would have to do that and guess what? We are.

  • Ralph Hatcher says:

    My son, Thomas, is a Marine in Falluja with the 9th Engineer Support Batallion, 1st Platoon. They work closely with IA troops and patrol the streets searching out IEDs and other potential threats. If your situation requires further flexibility you might want to look these guys up.

  • Matt Lexow Sgt., U.S. Army ret says:

    Hey, Bill, Sgt. Lex from Oregon. Thanks for the comprehensive update. Stay safe and keep it coming.

  • Agnieszka O. says:

    Thank you Bill.

  • G says:

    It’s been over a year since I was in Fallujah.
    How does it look now? When I was last there, you could hardly find a building that wasn’t partially rubble, full of holes, or completely cut in half so that the tanks could avoid the roads.
    Stay safe brother, not good times out here.

  • PJ Nasser says:

    Bill, can you comment on the accuracy or otherwise of this London Times article, according to which, al-Queda is being challenged in Ramadi? One paragraph reads,

    A power struggle has erupted: al-Qaeda’s reign of terror is being challenged. Sheikh Sittar and many of his fellow tribal leaders have cast their lot with the once-reviled US military. They are persuading hundreds of their followers to sign up for the previously defunct Iraqi police. American troops are moving into a city that was, until recently, a virtual no-go area. A battle is raging for the allegiance of Ramadi’s battered and terrified citizens and the outcome could have far-reaching consequences.

  • Anand says:

    Bill Roggio’s Falluja post got published at this left leaning publication:
    //www.rawstory.com/news/2006/Patrolling_Fallujah_1207.html
    Check out the comments. They are classic. Awesome to read 😉

  • the crog says:

    Anand:
    You should read the 52 comments on the “Media” article that I read yesterday on RawStory. I just took it for what it is. He is conservative and does write on the military.
    When Bill’s comments were more general there were plenty of comments from the exact opposite side of the political spectrum.
    I know how Bill tries keep politics out of the blog. I am his mother for cripes sake, and I was banned for a year because I was disrespectful to Mr. Cheyney. Now I realllly know why.

  • Devin says:

    I served with 1st Force Recon in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, and I have buddies who are still with 1st FR, who fought and bled in Fallujah. This battle will be one of the great battles in USMC history, it was a humiliating defeat for Al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgents who were annihilated in that batlle, which ended in 1,200-1,500 ebeny killed and 1,000 more captured. Even today although we only hear reorts of the Marines whop are killed in Anbar, the Marines and Army, are killing and capturing hundreds of insurgents each and every month. Of course the mainstream media ignore that fact, because it doesn’t fit their biased, bullshit, anti-US agenda.
    Thank God for guys like Bill, who present all the facts, not just the ones he likes.

  • Anand says:

    Crog,
    Thanks for letting us know that Bill’s media article was also posted on RawStory. Its great that Bill’s posts will be read by a whole new audience.
    I can only imagine how worried you must feel for Bill’s safety. The rest of us are praying for him too. And with the Marines covering his back . . . I worry about anyone who tries to take a shot at him 😉
    And don’t worry about the negative comments on RawStory. Negative comments are a clear sign that Bill’s writings are relavent and attracting interest. Translation, this is “GOOD”. No comments . . . that would be worrying.
    I just did some digging and found out that the editor wrote a very positive note regarding Bill:
    //www.rawstory.com/news/2006/A_note_to_readers_on_new_1206.html
    Some other Bill posts:
    //www.rawstory.com/news/2006/Raw_introduces_Iraq_correspondent_as_military_1206.html
    //www.rawstory.com/news/2006/Raw_introduces_Iraq_correspondent_1205.html

  • Tom B says:

    Dear Bill,
    This is the first time i have been to your blog. Very interesting reading. I appreciate the first hand accounts you give. I don t mind the bias either. Hard not to be on the troops side running with them as closely as you do. I read views from both sides of the spectrum. I have 2 honorable discharges and believed the hype about the war. After finding no weapons of mass destruction i saw through the smoke and found no smoking gun. Though i don t agree with the war any longer i still support the troops. Stay safe, i will read you again. What sort of camera do you use for your blog shots? Thanks Tom B.

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