In April 2004 four US private security contractors were killed in Fallujah. As a response to these attacks and to finally crush the last insurgents in the city of Fallujah so that the January 2005 elections will push through, an alliance of US and Iraq soldiers entered the city in what will later be known as the Battle of Fallujah. Hundreds of Insurgents were captured and killed. Some say that the mission was a success and the city was finally liberated from the insurgents. Some are not sure about it and find it hard to see the connection between the goal and the means of achieving it.
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It is undeniable that experience is still the best teacher. Perhaps nobody would argue against the importance of our past experiences to our present and future. Experience serves as a light that illuminates our dark path and guides us to making correct decisions. The importance of having a vast experience is more significant in warfare. It bears stressing that the lessons learned by a young soldier from military schools would pale in comparison to lessons that he will learn in actual battle. Indeed experience when used well gives a decisive edge in war.
It is, therefore, important for a soldier to be able to learn from the mistakes that it has committed in the past so as to avoid making the same mistakes. It must be emphasized that a mistake in military tactics is crucial as it could lead to the death of young soldiers who have decided to risk their lives in their attempt to represent and fight for their country. On the other hand, past history had revealed to us that a well-executed plan and a prepared army can easily bring down a larger army even if it has more sophisticated weaponry.
Based on the past experiences of the United States army, ordinarily, we would expect that our country will be wiser the next time they send their armies abroad. It bears stressing that with the number of missions the United States government has sent its army, we should be very careful about making wrong decisions. Based on the performance of our army in the Battle of Fallujah it would seem that our country has not learned from its past mistakes.
Some critics say that the Battle of Fallujah was a success and it finally drove away the insurgents that made Fallujah their military base and it finally paved the way for the 2005 elections in Iraq. On the other hand, some questioned the attack and were apprehensive about the possibility that its goal of crushing the insurgents and securing a stable and free Iraq will eventually be accomplished. (Fred Kaplan, 2004)
This essay deals with the analysis of the Battle of Fallujah code-named as Operation Al-Fajr, The Dawn in Arabic. It is also term as the Operation Phantom Fury or the Second Battle of Fallujah. I aim to provide the strategic setting of the battle and the tactics employed by the United States army. In the concluding part, I will explain my own analysis of the Battle of Fallujah and determine who really won that battle.
The setting of the battle is Fallujah, which is a home to 250,000 to 300,000 civilians. It is considered as one of the most violent and agitated towns in Iraq. It is believed to be an extremely pro-Saddam town which probably explains why it is the command base of the insurgents and the terror network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror network. Intelligence reports say that around 2,000 to 3,000 insurgents were hiding in the city. For the insurgents and those who are resisting Iraq’s democratization, Fallujah is considered as the symbol of defiance for the country against the United States. Taking it will therefore serve the dual purpose of crippling the symbol of defiance and insurrection and at the same time controlling a very strategic location in the Middle East.
What led to this battle was the event in April 2004 where insurgents killed and mutilated four US private security contractors. The corpses were eventually dismembered before the parts were hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River. The Americans condemned the attack and vowed that they will stand firm in their efforts to restore democracy in Iraq despite the presence of insurgents.
These events triggered what will, later on, be called as Battle for Fallujah. The short term mission was to attempt to regain control of the city by capturing and driving away the insurgents as a preparation for national elections scheduled in January 2005. The long-term goal was to finally establish a democratic, stable and free Iraq.
Two main problems confronted the army sent to Fallujah: a) the Setting and b) the Enemy. Fallujah is a difficult city to enter and flush out the insurgents believed to be hiding therein. The layout of the city is random and confusing. There are no boundaries that would distinguish between residential, business and industrial areas. (“Showdown-The Battle of Fallujah”) The streets are narrow and the houses are densely packed in blocks. The houses touch or almost touch the adjacent houses to the sides and to the rear. This made it possible for insurgents to hide from the soldiers even if they are placed in strategic locations within the city. The streets could also be unforgiving to a US soldier who may be caught in the crossfire as it would be very difficult to give assistance and support to each other.
There were two types of insurgents the US Marine had to contend with: a) the Guerillas and b) the Martyrs either of which could be very dangerous enemies. The Guerillas’ employed the guerilla warfare tactic whose purpose was to kill many US soldiers as quickly as possible and then to withdraw as soon as damage has been inflicted. They will usually position themselves in a terrain where they have superiority in terms of position and manpower. They will evade as soon as the contact is made. On the other hand, the Martyrs whose purpose is to kill as many soldiers as possible before they are killed were not afraid of death. They are willing to engage the alliance of US and Iraq soldiers in a face to face encounter.
Both these enemies employ the same weapons consisting mainly of arms, grenades and rock propelled grenades. They also utilized the same tactics against our soldiers as they have dug holes under houses, churches, and hospitals which they used either as means of egress and ingress, to transfer weapons and to hide. They shoot from almost anywhere e.g. either from rooftops, windows or concealed holes.
In Fallujah, the US soldiers were in a territory which is very unfamiliar. Special tactics must, therefore, be employed to ensure the success of the mission. It must be stressed however that the success of the mission is measured not only in terms of the accomplishment of the mission. The mission is a success if there is the least number of casualty or injuries on the part of the US marines and soldiers and if there is the least number of civilian casualties.
Among the noticeable military tactic employed in this battle was the isolation of Fallujah from the rest of the city in Iraq. The combined American and Iraqi soldiers established checkpoints in strategic locations around the city to prevent the possibility of additional forces being sent as reinforcements for the insurgents and to prevent the insurgents from escaping the city. In addition to these preparations, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi declared a State of Emergency and curfew was imposed so as to control the civilians. They were also warned not to carry any weapons.
Knowing fully well that some hospitals and mosque were being used for transporting weapons and ammunitions and as means of escape by insurgents, the US and Iraqi soldiers seized these strategic positions.
The soldiers also utilized a combination of air and artillery support before the ground troops entered the city streets. Bombs were dropped in strategic locations where ammunitions were suspected of being kept. It was even reported that marines and solders have seen secondary explosions after air and artillery support indicating that explosives and cache were likewise hit.
Barely, one day has passed since the battle began, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers has made a declaration that the mission was “very, very successful.” (Wesley K. Clark)
It may appear to the naked eye that we won the Battle of Fallujah. Hundreds or even thousands of insurgents were captured. Hundreds were dead. Some also flee the city to avoid being captured by US marines. Our soldiers have also successfully entered, seized and occupied Fallujah. The leaders in the city of Fallujah are also pro-Americans. U.S. and Iraqi officials declared that the city has been liberated and that the assault was very successful.
In my opinion, however, there is more than meets than eye in every battle. The success of a battle is not measured simply from the short-sighted perspective of capturing and killing the most number of insurgents. It must be stressed that the situation in Fallujah is quite different from the other wars the United States Army had been engaged in. There is no army wearing a particular uniform. There is also no particular leader that the insurgents claim obedience and loyalty to. There is no headquarters and barracks. There is no central base that symbolizes the territory of the enemy.
I think it is a mistake to declare at this time to declare that we have won the Battle of Fallujah. Success in Fallujah should be measured by the success of the democratization process in Iraq. Time will be the sole judge that will determine whether the move of the United States army was really for the betterment of Iraq. After decades of Saddam Hussein’s rule are the people ready to accept the blessings of democracy. Will there be lasting peace in Iraq? Will the nation be finally united after these insurgents are driven off Iraq. Will the resistance finally come to an end? Unless and until these things happen, then we can only consider than we may have won the battle but we have lost the war against terrorism.
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