Talking Proud --- Military

Battle for Fallujah, our warfighters towered in maturity and guts

April 28, 2005

Operation Dawn - Al Fajr

Phases I and II - Prepare the Battlefield for Attack

D-Day for Operation Dawn-al Fajr was scheduled for November 7, 2004, at 1900 hours (7 pm Baghdad time). That schedule was met. Lt. General Sattler, I MEF Commander and Operation Dawn commander, said on November 15, 2004:

"The city has been seized. We have liberated the city of Fallujah."

As you should expect, the intensity of fighting, on the ground and from the air, grew days before D-Day and fighting continued beyond the day. Prior to D-day is the preparation period. Following the date the city was declared "seized" involved clean-up operations. Fighting was deadly in all three periods, and remains a difficult city to watch over to this day.

As shown in the marked-up satellite photo of Fallujah above, and as discussed in the previous section, US (and Iraqi) forces were poised across the breadth of the northern edge of Fallujah, each assigned a north-to-south zone of attack. While the attack was hardly a surprise, tactical surprise was achieved. In the April 2004 attack, US forces came in from the open area you see on the photo of the city in the south and southeast, largely an industrial sector, and largely barren. The US dropped hints that the November attack would come from the same direction, and US forces were sent there to bolster that story. British forces were also poised south and southeast of the city. The truth was that these forces in the south and southeast served two purposes. First, they made the enemy think another April-style attack was coming from this sector. Second, they protected the southern flank of the attack forces coming from the north.

A wide variety of intelligence collection resources were at work since the April assault. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), human intelligence, and Special Forces, as well as other technical means were all used. Force commanders felt fairly confident they knew where the enemy stored his weapons, where he held meetings, and where he might otherwise congregate. These intelligence collection resources continued to be used throughout the assault, to great effect.

At least 10 types of unmanned planes provided live camera feeds to U.S. combat operations centers, and even to the soldier standing on the corner wondering whether he should round the corner and press on to his next objective. Models shown here are examples of a few major types.

Raven UAV pre-launch inspections. Spc Barron and Sgt Sibley with me on top of the hill at the Task Force (TF) Support Area, ready to put the Raven UAV up to give a live video feed of the city. Photo credit: "mikeygunz," presented at

The RQ-11 Raven UAV weighs 4.5 lbs, has a 3-foot body and a 5-foot wingspan, and is launched by hand. It is a short range (6 miles), short endurance (80 minutes) vehicle specifically designed for urban warfare. It is an excellent tool for force protection for specific units in need, when other vehicles are not available. Raven is flown by remote control from a portable computer on the ground and has a live video feedback. Troops can be warned of enemy locations and mortar, artillery and air strikes can be called in based on its feed. The Raven is a system used mainly by the Army. It was designed to be a company-level asset, but has been in such short supply that the battalion levels have been taking them for their use.

U.S. Marines prepare a hand-launched Dragon Eye unmanned aerial vehicle along the outskirts of Fallujah, Iraq, in the first hours of Operation Al Fajr on Nov. 8. These Marines are assigned to 3-5 Marines. Photo credit: Cpl. James J. Vooris, USMC, presented by US Department of Defense

The Marines also operate a UAV similar in concept to the Army's Raven known as Dragon Eye. The Dragon Eye UAV is specifically designed to follow a predetermined mission into questionable areas to deliver a bird's eye view of its surroundings with two near-real-time video cameras. Dragon Fly operates at from 300-500 feet altitude at a range of about 3 miles for 30-60 minutes. It too provides its imagery real time to the combat troops on the ground. They are normally used at the battalion level, though they have been used at the company level.

This photo is a Dragon Eye shot of a section of Fallujah, presented by This kind of image would be in the hands of a battalion in real time, and was used to direct ground forces in the neighborhood to their targets, brief them on the situation, tell them where their targets were and how they might be armed, and was also used to call in artillery and air strikes.

RQ-2 Pioneer UAV flyby. Photo credit: VMU-1, USMC.

The U.S. Navy/USMC's Pioneer was the first tactical battlefield UAV in service with the U.S. armed forces. The Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron One, VMU-1, the "Watchdogs," Marine Aircraft Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing flew this aircraft during Operation Dawn - al Fajr, with a day-night imagery intelligence payload. It flies at altitudes ranging from 10,000 - 15,000 feet, though it has been flown lower, at ranges up to 185 miles, with on average a 4-5 hour endurance.

Marine mechanics work on a Pioneer's pusher prop to prepare the UAV for its next sortie. Photo presented by

At Taqaddam Airbase, near Fallujah, Iraq, a Marine polishes the lens of a surveillance camera on a Pioneer UAV, which can lock on to and automatically track high-contrast targets. Photo presented by

Predator UAV provides real-time surveillance lets ground forces “see” around corners and over buildings. Note this UAV is not only prepared to conduct reconnaissance, it is carrying a "Hellfire" missile to attack a target it sees. Photo credit: USAF photo by SSgt. Suzanne M. Jenkins, presented by Air Force Magazine

The RQ-1 Predator is a long endurance (40 hours), medium altitude (25,000 ft) unmanned aircraft system for surveillance and reconnaissance missions at a range of up to 500 miles (on target duration 24 hours). Surveillance imagery from synthetic aperture radar (all weather, day-night), video cameras and a forward looking infra-red (FLIR) can be distributed in real-time both to the front line soldier and to the operational commander or worldwide in real-time via satellite communication links. This is an asset that was available to the Operation Dawn - al Fajr commander and subordinate units, regardless of service, but is flown only by the USAF.

As a general rule of thumb, the USAF would fly the Predator in response to overall battlefield requirements expressed in this case by Commander I MEF. The Raven, Dragon Eye and Pioneer UAVs are more for immediate requirements of the battalion level and below.

Marines of 4th Battalion, 14th Marines receive the command to engage enemy targets with a M-198 155mm Howitzer at Camp Fallujah, Iraq, called in by fellow Marines in the city of Fallujah during Operation Dawn-Al Fajar on Nov. 11, 2004. Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Samantha L. Jones. Presented by USCENTCOM.

Employing this and other intelligence, air and artillery bombardment got pretty serious and pretty intense during the first days of November.

An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the “Rampagers” of Strike Fighter Squadron Eight Three (VFA-83) launches from USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67). The Kennedy Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and aircraft from Carrier Air Wing Seventeen (CVW-17) executed missions in support of Operation Dawn-Al Fajr in Fallujah, Iraq. Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Michael Sandberg. Presented by Navy News

An air strike is called in on a suspected insurgent hideout at the edge of Fallujah, Iraq by U.S. Marines assigned K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, during the opening hours of Operation Dawn. 1st Marine Division, in support of Operation Dawn-Al Fajr. Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James J. Vooris. Presented by Navy News

Aircraft used a variety of weapons, two of the more prominent being laser-guided bombs and hellfire missiles.

Tankers got this one. What was left of yet another car that parked along the street in order to block US movement into the city, along the street...our tankers took care of this one with 120 mm main gun. Photo credit: "mikeygunz," presented at

Any vehicle parked in the same location for more than three days was destroyed. Many secondary explosions occurred during these attacks, indicating the vehicles were loaded with munitions and explosives.

On November 5, American forces cut off power to the city. Leaflets were dropped warning people who remained in the city to remain inside their homes and not use their cars. The government declared a state of emergency and imposed a round-the-clock curfew.

Sgt. Wilen Hopkins, a machine gunner in 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry scans countryside just north of Fallujah. The 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team "Blackjack" Brigade's mission involves maintaining a cordon around the besieged city while Marines and other elements weed out remaining insurgents. Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Al Barrus. Presented by Defend America.

American forces, made up principally of elements of the 2nd Brigade “Blackjack”, 1st Armored Cavalry Division, formed a Brigade Combat Team (BCT), called the 2nd BCT, cordoned off the city and shut down access into or out of the city. Residents said the cordon was “impenetrable." Residents were told not to carry weapons. A resident with a weapon was considered hostile. The Blackjacks also pursued anyone who might have slipped through. This strict cordon effort had not been done in the first attack back in April.

The Blackjacks did allow women and children to leave the city. All men between the ages of 15 to 55 were separated from refugee convoys and their families and turned back into the city. In addition, the Blackjacks had a very important mission once the attack took place, which was to make sure no enemy forces came at the attacking force from the rear. The 2nd BCT also made the rounds in outlying villages to hunt down any enemy forces that might have fled before the operation began.

U.S. Army 1st Cavalry, 2nd Brigade Col. Michael Formica pulls concertina wire across a highway entering Baghdad, Iraq on June 24, 2004. Formica is concerned with preventing car bombs from entering Baghdad from the Fallujah area as the handover of sovereignty approaches. Photo credit: Jim MacMillan, AP

Colonel Michael Formica, the 2nd BCT commander, noted this:

“We have got to clean Fallujah. We have to stop the bad guys from escaping, we have to end terrorism and return Fallujah to the Iraqi people in collaboration with the Iraqi forces.

"(After they established the cordon), mortar and rocket attacks became nonexistent, and (improvised explosive device) attacks went down into the single digits. We detained several high-ranking insurgents in the towns around Fallujah.”

It's worth noting that the 2nd BCT also brought A Battery, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division along with it. You don't have to remember all that. You can just call this the “Gator” Battery, its nickname.

Soldiers of Battery A, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, "Gator Battery," relax outside their Paladin Howitzer while waiting to receive a fire mission at Camp Fallujah. Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Erik LeDrew. Presented by Defend America

The Gators brought the heavy duty Paladin Howitzer, a kind of mobile canon, to help out Marine artillery which had only howitzers and had been tasked to the limit. The Paladins use high explosives.

Army Spc. Frank Guerra prepares to fire rounds from a M109A6 Paladin artillery vehicle as part of a counter fire mission against insurgents near the town of Fallujah, Iraq, on Nov. 5, 2004. Guerra is assigned to Alpha 382nd, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry. Photo credit: DoD photo by Senior Airman Christopher A. Marasky, U.S. Air Force. Presented by Defense Link

The Gators were normally asked to provide counter-fire against enemy forces who were firing mortars on friendly forces and direct fire support for friendly forces engaged in combat.

U.S. Marines of the 1st Division take position on the outskirts of Fallujah. While they wait, air and artillery pounds suspected enemy positions to prepare the battlefield for the two RCTs to enter and take the city. Photo credit: AP

On November 6, the day prior to the invasion, both RCTs moved into the desert north of the city. American attack aircraft and artillery pounded the city in preparation for the assault and to cover this force movement.

Preparation for the Battle of Fallujah. Alpha company training for urban combat at Camp Fallujah. Photo credit: "mikeygunz," presented at

Those troops who were able, practiced their urban warfare training, including training to load ambulances with injured.

Interestingly, the weather was relatively cool, dropping into the 30s and 40s at night. This turned out to be a stroke of good fortune, because the soldiers and Marines had to do a lot of running, a lot of climbing, with heavy packs and a heavy amount of hostile fire coming their way.

Operation Dawn - Al Fajr was ready.

Prepare for Battle

Prepare for Battle

Phase III - The attack

The thoughts of a few who fought and saw this fight

Brief comments on air power in urban warfare

"Major Zarnik, these are my Marines, and I am giving them to you." A concluding story