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November 19, 2004
All Eyes on Fallujah Part V: LondonBy Greyhawk
(See introduction to series here.)
Dates below are for the story - not the events the reports describe.
Monday, 8 November, Opening salvos
(London Sunday Telegraph)...Toby Harnden
The soldiers of "Phantom troop", from the US Army 1st Infantry Division, had moved to within 700 metres of the eastern boundary of Fallujah early yesterday, gaining their first view of the rebel-held city.
"It's a ghost town out there," said Staff Sgt Robert Walker, gazing at the city through a thermal imaging sight. "Those warehouses and stuff are pretty much blown to hell."
US units had bombarded Fallujah into the early hours yesterday to try to draw out enemy fighters before an assault involving more than 10,000 troops, which could be a decisive battle for Iraq's future.
"A-Hour" is the phrase used by the US Army to describe the moment that its co-ordinated offensive will start. As the designated time drew near, Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, Humvees and armoured personnel carriers rolled out of a nearby base towards the city.
(London Sunday Times)...Hala Jaber
SCORES of suicide bombers have been primed to defend Falluja against an imminent onslaught by American and Iraqi forces, according to insurgents' commanders planning a ferocious counterattack.
More than 100 cars laden with high explosives have been distributed throughout the city to be detonated when US marines mount a long-awaited ground offensive, they claim.
Some would be used in 118 vehicles already rigged with explosives, he said; others would be waiting in booby-trapped homes for American and Iraqi soldiers hunting from house to house for al-Zarqawi's fighters.
It was impossible to verify such claims, but as the only western newspaper reporter in Falluja last week, I saw thick black cables running across roads to the city centre, indicating the sites of "improvised explosive devices" - home-made bombs intended for American convoys.
Tuesday, 9 November: The "real" battle begins
(London Daily Telegraph)...Toby Harnden
After seven months in Iraq's Sunni triangle, for many American soldiers the opportunity to avenge dead friends by taking a life was a moment of sheer exhilaration.
As they approached their "holding position", from where hours later they would advance into the city, they picked off insurgents on the rooftops and in windows.
"I got myself a real juicy target," shouted Sgt James Anyett, peering through the thermal sight of a Long Range Acquisition System (LRAS) mounted on one of Phantom's Humvees.
"Prepare to copy that 89089226. Direction 202 degrees. Range 950 metres. I got five motherf****** in a building with weapons."
Capt Kirk Mayfield, commander of the Phantoms, called for fire from his task force's mortar team. But Sgt Anyett didn't want to wait. "Dude, give me the sniper rifle. I can take them out - I'm from Alabama."
(London Times)...Michael Evans
OPERATION Phantom Fury, the planned attack on Fallujah, has all the familiar hallmarks of the US-led invasion of Iraq last year, although on a scale more commensurate with seizing control of a city.
The tactics and strategy are the same: weeks of bombing, insertion of special forces to provide up-to-date intelligence, concentrated artillery fire, removal of defences by combat bulldozers and then a mass thrust against the insurgents from at least two directions. The strategy is based on classic assumptions: that overwhelming force from the air and from the ground will stun the enemy into submission. As with Operation Iraqi Freedom, the invasion in March last year, the US Marines and army units are relying on aggression, speed and superior firepower to overcome whatever opposition the insurgents might muster in Fallujah.
Huge damage to the insurgents' suspected positions had been meted out from almost nightly US airstrikes since June, although it was clear that they remained well armed and had an underground route into the city for reinforcements and escape.
Yesterday's two-pronged attack into the city by 15,000 US troops and 3,000 Iraqi soldiers from the northeast and northwest was initially aimed at seizing a number of key sites, including the railway station, the city's main hospital (to pre-empt propaganda claims by the insurgents about civilian casualties), and, earlier, two bridges over the Euphrates.
With such tactics, the result can never be in any doubt, as was proven when the US armoured forces took 19 days to reach Baghdad, only to find the enemy was not prepared to put up a fight to defend the city.
This time, the Americans are facing a different type of enemy, but the chances are that despite all the reports of booby-trapped houses, hidden snipers, waiting suicide bombers and heavily defended positions, the key insurgency leaders on the most-wanted list will have been spirited away.
Wednesday, 10 November: Has the enemy fled?
(London Times) ...Michael Evans, Defence Editor
THE American military has been using novel and devastating methods to clear Fallujah's streets. It has adapted a mine-clearing system, based on a rocket-propelled hose with explosives attached, used for the first time on D-Day on the fortified beaches of Normandy.
The Miclic is normally designed for open spaces because it generates tremendous pressure, setting off mines over a large area. In Fallujah the Miclic, fired from 300 to 400 metres, is used to detonate roadside bombs and car bombs. It is highly effective but also indiscriminate, and not normally considered suitable for an urban environment. The aim is to ensure infantry and armoured vehicles are not impeded by booby-traps, roadside bombs and other hidden devices.
High buildings have also been taken over by snipers with telescopic sights to help to spot insurgents.
Other bomb-clearing methods in Fallujah include using the Meerkat, a South African remote-controlled mine-detector controlled from a huge, heavily armoured vehicle called a Buffalo. To ensure there are no hidden devices in houses down either side of a street, the Americans have also been using a small robot called PakBot, a 31 lb device equipped with an imaging system which can be dropped through a window.
The PakBot unfolds and starts to hunt through the house. It can climb stairs and even open cupboards, sending back images to its controller who has a joystick to operate it, although some PakBots run autonomously.
Every feature of modern technology has been deployed from electronic bomb-jamming equipment, called Warlock, installed on Humvee armoured vehicles, to the Shadow 200 tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), operated by the US Army to provide close-range pictures of enemy positions and movements.
The Americans are also using some of their most destructive weapon systems, deployed with such effect in the Iraq War last year: US Marine Cobra gunships firing anti-tank missiles, and AC130 Spectre gunships, converted Hercules transport aircraft armed with cannons.
The Multiple Launch Rocket Systems weapon, which fires hundreds of bomblets, is likely to be in reserve. It was used in Baghdad last year to attack side streets where Iraqi tanks were thought to be hiding.
(London Times)... Ali Hamdani and Richard Lloyd Parry
RESISTANCE fighters seized the centre of the western city of Ramadi yesterday as the US assault on Fallujah set off a wave of militant attacks across the country.
Local journalists reported that Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province which includes Fallujah, was taken over by armed men after a unit of US military snipers abandoned an hotel from which they had been dominating the centre of the city.
Insurgents armed with Kalashnikov rifles, heavy machineguns and rocketpropelled grenades paraded in the street, firing their weapons in the air. Earlier in the day at least seven insurgents were killed in Ramadi and five US soldiers were injured when they opened fire on two suspected car bombs.
The offensive in Fallujah triggered a storm of insurgent attacks elsewhere in the country, suggesting that much of the anti-coalition resistance has already dispersed far beyond its stronghold. Around 45 people were killed in attacks on police stations in the city of Baquba. A car bomb outside an Iraqi National Guard base near Kirkuk killed three people. A senior local government official was assassinated in Samarra.
(London Times)... James Hider
THE green video screen in the back of a Bradley fighting vehicle is the ultimate in reality television, and that is how we watched the battle of Fallujah unfold as our 30-tonne steel beast advanced into the district of Jolan, the rebels' bastion, in the small hours of yesterday morning.
Outside, in the bomb-blasted streets, up to 5,000 die-hard insurgents were out to kill. Inside, on a screen accurate enough to show rats scavenging on the rubbish piles, the battle between luminous green tanks and luminous green gunmen seemed almost abstract.
Only the shock of the explosions and the occasional back blast of dust when a gunner opened fire reminded us we were in the midst of the most desperate urban battle since the fall of Baghdad. That, and the shrapnel which went right through my arm later in the morning.
The assault had begun with a day of intense bombardment of the rebels' positions on Monday - a vast display of artillery, tanks and war planes hitting the buildings where guerrillas were believed to be lurking, ready to detonate huge buried mines as the US Army advanced.
Airbursts of shrapnel sent a vast jellyfish of smoke drifting into the city, raining fire on guerrillas perched on the rooftops.
As night fell over the darkened city, the explosions lit up the sky and American troops preparing to fight pulled up deckchairs to watch the show.
Two US Marine battalions then stormed Fallujah's disused train station and a block of apartments on the edge of town.
(London Daily Telegraph)... Toby Harnden, in Fallujah
The flimsy metal door was ripped off its hinges as a hefty boot from a Legion platoon soldier made decisive contact. Inside the small room lay an AK-47 rifle, alarm clock parts and a handwritten notebook in Farsi. Moments earlier, the gunman, thought to be Iranian, had fled as Legion, Hunter and Outlaw platoons of the US army's Task Force 2-2 undertook one of the more dangerous tasks of the battle for Fallujah.
Clearing buildings door to door in a guerrilla stronghold is risky at any time. Into the bargain this time, the platoons from Phantom troop had been ordered to sweep Fallujah's industrial zone, a haven for foreign fighters.
Also in the room was a red-and-white keffiyeh, a bag of bandages, an optical sight typical of those used by a sniper and a pile of photographs of Arab men, including one in a similar keffiyeh, of military age, and boxes of ammunition.
Moving deliberately through the area, the Phantoms came under sniper, mortar and small arms fire and had to negotiate mines and other explosives.
Remarkably, they had completed a third of their task by nightfall yesterday without suffering a single casualty.
(London Times)... Michael Theodoulou
THE Fallujah offensive drew stinging criticism from commentators across the Arab world. "Beside the human catastrophe in making Fallujah a ghost city, one should wonder at this point whether there is any difference between what the US forces claim to stand for and what former President Saddam Hussein stood for," Qatar's al-Watan newspaper said.
An equally tough editorial in a newspaper of the same name in Saudi Arabia, whose government, like that of Qatar's, is a staunch US ally, stated: "The American forces are expected to increase their barbaric acts in the hope of finishing off once and for all the Iraqi resistance so that they can have peace and realise their aims."
In contrast to the invective seen in the press, Arab leaders, many of them reluctant to offend Washington, have been low-key in their response, quietly urging caution and expressing concern for Fallujah's civilians.
(London Financial Times)... Steve Negus
The opening moves of a US-led assault on the rebel-held town of Falluja end a seven-month stand-off that both US and Iraqi interim government officials found intolerable.
Since Washington called off an earlier offensive in April, US and Iraqi officials say, the rebel stronghold has been both an unacceptable challenge to the government's authority and a refuge for radical Islamists bent on destabilising the country.
But the attack carries the risk of a political and military backlash that could make swathes of central Iraq virtually ungovernable.
Before launching the assault, Iyad Allawi's interim government considered two other options - negotiating with representatives of Falluja to persuade them to turn over the more radical insurgents and accept government authority, or isolating the town.
Peace talks failed, according to the government, because local negotiators could not force an agreement against the will of the hardliners in their midst.
(London Financial Times)
Taking Falluja may prove the easy part. Recent experience has shown that holding on to it is likely to be much harder, writes Peter Spiegel
The US military's ability to push into the heart ofFalluja just 48 hours after it launched its offensive in the rebel-held city is a sign that even a hardened and determined resistance has little hope of holding out against overwhelming American advantages in firepower and personnel.
But military analysts and former coalition officials warn that taking the city, while far from complete, may actually prove the easy part of the operation; the hard part will be holding it.
(London Financial Times)... Steve Negus and Dhiya Rasan
Just as they did during the first siege of Falluja seven months ago, residents of the Iraqi town of Karma, most of whom have tribal ties with the embattled city, have rallied to the defence of their kinsmen.
Masked gunmen stand guard on the rooftops of the town, keeping watch over the surrounding countryside as the dull thud of explosions drifts from Falluja, some 20km to the east.
Black smoke drifts into the sky from what residents say are burning US oil tankers ambushed by local fighters, while guards at checkpoints on the roads leading in and out keep watch for anyone who might be an Iraqi government spy.
The first siege became what one Iraqi politician has dubbed a "recruiting agent for the insurgency", as Sunni Arab communities mobilised to support Falluja, mounting solidarity attacks on US supply convoys and other targets.
Now, Karma's insurgents boast that this second offensive will spread their up-rising even further.
"Every Iraqi town shall become Falluja," declares a masked insurgent called Abu Askar, who that morning returned from a trip to bring armour-piercing rockets into Falluja.
Thursday, November 11: Hump day (this is not a 5-day week)
(London Times)... Richard Lloyd Parry and Ali Hamdani
REFUGEES escaping Fallujah described a humanitarian crisis in the city yesterday, with women and children killed by the US bombardment or dying for lack of medical treatment, medicines and sanitation.
At Al-Numan General Hospital in Baghdad, the families of civilian victims evacuated from Fallujah claimed that US forces were bombing outlying villages where refugees have regrouped, as well as the city.
"I was praying at the village mosque," said Abu Mustafa, 35. "I heard a big bang so everybody rushed towards that explosion, which turned out to be an American missile."
Friday, 12 November: After the Night of Power
(London Financial Times)... Steve Negus
Falluja's remaining civilian population has lacked humanitarian aid since the beginning of the assault on their town on Monday, relief groups in Baghdad said yesterday.
Iraq's Red Crescent says at least 157 families, or 1,000 people, remain inside the embattled town without electricity, water, or medical care, although there may be many more.
Most of the town's population of up to 300,000 people are thought to have fled before the US-led offensive. The Muslim Scholars' Board, an influential group of Sunni clergy, has estimated that between 60,000 and 150,000 people remain within the city, but has not said how it came by that number.
Saturday 13 November: The Push
(London Daily Telegraph)... Robin Gedye, Foreign Affairs Writer
Insurgent attacks across Iraq stretched American forces to their limits yesterday when rebels appeared to be in control of at least two cities, and the operation in Fallujah entered its most dangerous phase.
The holy city of Najaf became the seventh city to be placed under a night-time curfew with insurgents across the Sunni Triangle, the country's most volatile region, united in their determination to use the battle for Fallujah as a rallying call to terror.
Despite air strikes on Iraq's main northern city, Mosul, on Thursday night and claims by US forces that the city was calm, masked gunmen openly controlled its streets yesterday with eyewitnesses reporting that neither police nor US forces were to be seen.
Insurgents remained in charge of at least one of the nine police stations which they had attacked earlier while some police were reported to have thrown off their uniforms to join the terrorists. A contingent of US troops was detached from guarding the perimeter of Fallujah, where the American toll rose to at least 22 dead yesterday since the operation began, and moved to Mosul in an attempt to re-impose order.
(London Daily Telegraph)... Tom Newton Dunn, in Camp Dogwood
The Black Watch defeated a suicide bombing squad and arrested two insurgents after firefights and a helicopter chase across the Iraqi desert yesterday.
Two insurgents were being interrogated at the battle group headquarters, Camp Dogwood, after suicide bomb-making equipment was found in their car.
Ten insurgents had earlier traded heavy fire before trying to flee. But as others shot their way out, two were tracked by a helicopter and then surrounded and arrested while hiding in a mosque. It is the first major success for the Scots batallion since its arrival in North Babil province, 25 miles south of Baghdad, two weeks ago.
The four-hour running battle started when insurgents opened fire on British soldiers in two Warrior fighting vehicles with rocket-propelled grenades and AK47s. They had been manning an illegal vehicle checkpoint on a bridge over the Euphrates, north-east of Camp Dogwood.
The troops returned fire, forcing the insurgents to jump into three cars and flee into the desert.
An Army Air Corps Lynx helicopter pursued one car. The second was intercepted by Black Watch troops who fired on it, stopping it in its tracks. As soldiers closed in, the enemy scattered. After a booby trap was disarmed, a large arms cache was found inside.
A second helicopter tracked a third car and ground troops cornered it outside a mosque in a village and the arrests were made.
(London Times) Richard Lloyd Parry, Ali Hamdani and Ali Hussain Khudair
MASKED guerrillas roamed freely through parts of central Baghdad yesterday as the Iraqi capital succumbed to levels of disorder not seen since the after-math of last year's invasion.
As US soldiers and Marines regained control of Fallujah, insurgents elsewhere undermined the coalition's claims of progress towards restoring security before elections scheduled for January.
Resistance fighters had partial control over the Iraq's third biggest city, Mosul, and launched attacks in at least four towns in the Sunni-dominated centre of the country, including Ramadi, Baquba and Samarra.
But it is Baghdad that has seen the most alarming developments of the past week - gunfights on the streets of the capital between US and Iraqi soldiers and police and insurgents who appear to have escaped from Fallujah before this week's assault.
"There was intense fighting first thing in the morning, and later in the day," said Omar Salah, a 28-year-old man who was shopping in the Adhamiya district of central Baghdad yesterday. "We expect it to get worse because of what's happening in Fallujah."
With a day to go before the beginning of Eid, the festival marking the end of Ramadan, the capital was more isolated and dangerous than it had been at any time during the 19-month occupation.
Sunday, 14 November: End game on the eve of Eid
(London Daily Telegraph)... Aqeel Hussein in al-Nouaimia and Toby Harnden in Fallujah
The fighters, said to include foreign militants using satellite telephones, are believed to be heading for Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul, to open a new front.
Abu Haider, 47, a mechanic who escaped with his family on Friday, said: "I saw many fighters with their faces covered, coming out beside us, carrying light weapons and their telephones.
"I asked one how he had managed to arrange a lift to the city. He replied, 'It is the order. We have to choose another field to fight on outside Fallujah.' "
Yesterday, President George W Bush gave warning that guerrilla violence in Iraq could worsen as the January elections draw near. "The desperation of the killers will grow and the violence could escalate," he said.
Posted by Greyhawk / November 19, 2004 8:27 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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