Battle for Fallujah, our warfighters towered in maturity and guts
April 28, 2005
Operation Dawn - Al Fajr
Phase III - The Attack
D-Day for Operation Dawn-al Fajr was scheduled for November 7, 2004, at 1900 hours (7 pm Baghdad time).
During the evening of November 7, the Marines and Iraqis had to take care of one important piece of business prior to launching the full scale attack. In late October, the Marine 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (LAR) tapped a HQ element and one LAR company to join with B/1-23 Marines, C/1-9 Infantry, a Scout Sniper Platoon and Iraqi special and regular forces to form Task Force Wolfpack. Together they moved at night against the Fallujah General Hospital on the peninsula to the west of the city, across the Euphrates, and they moved against two major bridges crossing the Euphrates, one going to the hospital, the other serving main Highway 10 on its way to Ramadi, Iraq and Ammam, Jordan to the west.
This next photo is of the same area as the above photo but taken from a different angle, shot by an airborne platform rather than a satellite. That is a Marine Corps F/A-18 from VMFA (AW)-242 in the center and the photo was probably shot by his wingman. Photo provided by a VMFA (AW)-242 member.
The Iraqis concentrated on taking the hospital, while the rest of the Wolfpack concentrated on taking the bridges.
The objectives were to be sure that the enemy in retreat could not use the bridges or the hospital. Some have written that the objective with the hospital was to assure that accurate reporting of civilian casualties during the upcoming assault came out of the hospital. Perhaps so, but from a military vantage, denying the enemy access to the hospital and an escape route were far more important. It is worth noting that the British "Black Watch" Regiment had earlier moved into positions east and south of the city to block retreat.
Marines secured this bridge over the Euphrates River outside of Fallujah. Photo credit: Shawn Baldwin for The New York Times
This hospital-bridge mission was accomplished promptly and efficiently. The hospital and the two bridges were seized. Soon thereafter, all bridges across the river in the Fallujah area were taken and secured, such as is shown in the photo above.
On November 8, US aircraft and artillery began their major assault on the city. Massive strikes were executed for about 12 hours prior to launch.
In this night-vision image taken on the early morning of November 9, 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq, U.S. troops launch an offensive to destroy key rebel strongholds in the beleaguered Iraqi city. Photo credit: APTN, Pool - AP photo. Presented by Air Force Times
Under this hail of fire, all ground forces were able to move quickly to their assigned positions on the northern edge of the city at points to enable a six corridor attack to the south, through the city.
Events now began to click-click in rapid fashion.
Marines from 1st Division take up positions overlooking the western part of Fallujah, Iraq. Photo credit: Anja Niedringhaus, AP. Presented by Air Force Times
We understand that the 3-5 Marines were the first to pop off the starting blocks for RCT-1 at 1900 on November 8, 2004. They immediately took an apartment complex on the northwest corner of the city, which gave them elevated positions, enabling them to look down the attack lanes into the attack zone.
"The grunts of India 3-5 direct mortar fire." Photo credit: Captain Bodisch. Presented by grunt.com
U.S. Marines with Weapons Platoon, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (3-5), 1st Marine Division, remain ready as Marines seize apartments in the city of Fallujah, Iraq, in the first hours of Operation Al Fajr (New Dawn), Nov. 8, 2004. Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James J. Vooris. Presented by Defend America
U.S. Marines with Weapons Platoon, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (3-5), 1st Marine Division, seize the apartments at the edge of the city of Fallujah, Iraq, in the first hours of Operation Al Fajr (New Dawn), Nov. 8, 2004. Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James J. Vooris. Presented by Defend America
The Marines moved to the rooftops and took down the enemy while it was trying to get into its fighting positions below. Marine snipers engaged the enemy while machine gun and mortar teams in full body armor carried their weapons and crates of ammunition up eight flights of stairs to the rooftop position. They then set up shop and went to work.
While the 3-5 Marines were setting up their firing positions on top of the apartment complex, the 2-7 Cav led the way for the 3-1 Marines and together they seized the railroad station. The Iraqi National Guard's India Company joined the Marines in this attack and conducted their attack aggressively. Overall, about 2,000 Iraqi soldiers were joined with about 10,000 Americans.
Smoke billows from the railroad station in Fallujah, Iraq, on November 9, in the morning, as soldiers and Marines pounded the city with air strikes and artillery barrages. Army and Marine units roared into the city through a breach near the railroad station. Photo credit: Anja Niedringhaus, AP. Presented by Air Force Times
The big train station at the north part of the city that Task Force 2-7 breached and led the assault from the north. Photo credit: "mikeygunz," presented at Webshots.com
Train tracks breach. The spot in the train tracks where engineers led the way for the breach and blew a path wide enough for tanks and Bradleys to cross. The enemy had laid minefields all along it, so the breach not only opened a path, but blew up any anti-tank mines or Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) in the way. Photo credit: "mikeygunz," presented at Webshots.com
The train station was seized immediately, and the rail line was effectively cut off in multiple sections.
A Bradley Fighting Vehicle from Apache Troop, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, rolls out to the fight, in this case, after refueling. These guys have already been in the fight and are going back for more. Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Johan Charles Van Boers. Presented by Defend America
Engineers from the 2-7 Cav blew a breach through the train trestle. That enabled the 2-7 Cav to pour through the breach with tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles to take an armored fight straight to the enemy. The 3-1 Marines then followed behind.
Given the immediate capture of the hospital, the two bridges, and the rail yard, the Jolan district on the far west and the Askari district on the far east were the next two big objectives.
Initial attack overview, Jolan and Askari Districts. Presented by BBC.
The 3-1 and 3-5 Marines and 2-7 Cav of RCT-1 had the task of taking down the Jolan district in the west. The 2-7 Cav joined with the 3-1 Marines to produce what one Marine called “the wedge.” That is, the 2-7 Cav slashed into the city and created as much turmoil as it could, which then enabled the 3-1 Marines to follow behind, get in there as well, and get down to business. The 3-5 Marines followed from the northwest.
The 2-2 Inf, and 1-3 and 1-8 Marines of RCT-7 had the job of taking down the Askari district in the east. Both these districts were considered volatile, but more important, US forces wanted to make sure they controlled both ends of Highway 10 that bisected the city west-east (shown as yellow dots on the BBC map). We believe Highway 10 was nicknamed "Phase Line Fran." Controlling that highway, and the bridge that served it, meant no one was going to use it to get out of the city or in unless they were authorized by US forces.
In both instances, RCT-1 and RCT-7, armor led the way.
The Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles and M113 armored personnel carriers of the 2nd "Ghost" Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment (2-7), 1st Cav. Div., rolled out of Assembly Area Otter, just outside Fallujah, to begin the assault on the western half of the city during the evening of November 8. (Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Erik LeDrew, 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment).
Jolan District from satellite photo
The fight was very difficult in the Jolan district on the far west. That was expected, because intelligence had shown that this district hosted most of the hardline enemy forces, described by one Marine captain who fought against them as “hardcore.”
We have seen some reports that imply that Jolan was not a densely packed area. That's wrong. Our forces were in tight quarters, as these photos show.
"Race to Jolan Park." Photo credit: Captain Bodisch. Presented by grunt.com
"Pushing through." Photo credit: Captain Bodisch. Presented by grunt.com
Despite all the challenges, the tanks were two miles into the city by 10 am on November 9. They encountered many obstacles, which slowed them down a tad, but they spent their time killing enemy and softening up the others who were next for the Marines. The 2-7 Cav led the way for RCT-1, set up advanced fighting positions, and the Marines started clearing the area, building by building.
A Marine with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (3-5), kicks in a door in Fallujah, Iraq, Nov. 10, 2004. Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Luis R. Agostini. Presented by Defend America
A M1A1 Abrams tank fires into a building that Marines had received fire from during a firefight in Fallujah, Iraq, in support of Operation Dawn - al Fajr. Photo credit: DoD photo by Lance Cpl. James J. Vooris, U.S. Marine Corps. Presented by Defense Link.
The plan was for the Marines to call for 2-7 Cav help if they got into trouble. In those instances, the 2-7 would train their tanks and Bradleys on the targets giving the Marines problems and take them out.
Marines were pinned down by enemy fire from across the Euphrates on November 8, 2004. A Bradley stepped in and returned the fire on their behalf. Photo credit: Shawn Baldwin, New York Times
The 2-7 would normally employ their 120 mm main guns or .50 cal, both of which are ferocious. The fighting was so intense, however, that the 2-7 could not respond to every call for help.
Kilo Company, 3-5 Marines. Photo credit: Captain Bodisch. Presented by grunt.com
That meant the Marines had to fight their way in on their own until they killed everyone firing at themor forced them to disperse. The Marines in these instances risked taking on heavy casualties. It was a tough fight, without doubt.
Askari District from satellite photo
RCT-7 crossed the line of departure north of Fallujah at 1900 on November 8, 2004 as well. An outfit we have not mentioned fired the initial smoke rounds to start RCT-7's attack on Fallujah, Battery C, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, or C Btry 1-12 Marines, out of Hawaii. RCT-7's main three three battalions were through the breach and into the city within three hours. By November 9, the greatest gains had been made in this northeastern attack zone. US forces, mainly the 2-2 Inf, pushed some 800 yards into the Askari district by the early morning hours of November 9. American soldiers were seen walking the streets of the Askari and Jeghaifi neighborhoods during the early evening hours of November 9.
US soldiers walking the streets of Fallujah. Presented by Kystal.com
Army tanks roll down the street as soldiers with the 2nd Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Division (2-2 Inf) clear abandoned houses of insurgents November 10, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq. Photo credit: Scott Nelson, Getty Images. Presented by Air Force Times
Bradley fighting vehicles from the 1st Infantry Division's 2nd Battalion, 2nd Regiment (2-2 Inf), hold a position inside a schoolyard during heavy fighting in Fallujah, Iraq. Photo credit: Scott Nelson, Getty Images. Presented by Air Force Times
The 2-2 Inf's job was to protect the eastern flank of RCT-7 as the 1-3 and 1-8 Marines pushed south. Therefore, initially, the 2-2 Inf attacked south through the eastern edge of Fallujah. The 2-2 provided a similar armored support service to the RCT-7 that the 2-7 Cav provided to the Marines on the ground in RCT-1. C Btry 1-12 Marines was the lead artillery battery supporting the 1-8 Marines.
C Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines in action. Photo presented by USMC.
Enemy forces took a beating, but because of the time they had to prepare for this fight, many enemy fighters in small groups were able to move around fluidly and harass American forces at locations and times of their choosing.
To those unfamiliar with these kinds of operations, the situation would no doubt appear very chaotic, and perhaps for many of the men and women on the ground, chaotic would be an apt description. On balance, however it was actually very well organized. War by definition is chaotic. That said, Army armor drove right at the enemy to create chaos among their ranks. Then, in a more organized and pre-planned fashion, the Marines would come right behind and take the disorganized enemy out. This is not to say that everything always went by the script. It does say the US force conducted its assault well trained, well educated on the threat, with a good plan, and in a disciplined way.
Members of Charlie Company, 1st Marine Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (1-8), secure a narrow street during the assault on Fallujah, Iraq, on November 8, 2004. Photo credit: Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times, presented by the Air Force Times
US forces fought in very close quarters and along very narrow streets.
Marines with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, enter the streets of Fallujah, Iraq, through a hole they created Nov. 9, 2004. Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Luis R. Agostini. Presented by Defend America
One assault team would dash out from its cover, fire a rocket into the wall of an enemy strongpoint, the smoke would clear and a squad behind them would jump ahead, move through the hole, and clear the house.
U.S. Army soldier from 1st Platoon, Apache Troop, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, moves tactically as he enters and clears an objective in Fallujah on Nov. 9, 2004. Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Johan Charles Van Boers. Presented by Department of Defense.
Down the street, other similar movements were taking place, foot by foot, yard by yard, methodically. One Marine said this:
“Even in the midst of mayhem, it was an awesome sight.”
The 2-2 Inf reached Phase Line Fran on November 9 and secured the eastern end of Highway 10 by November 10. No one was coming in or going out on that road from the eastern end unless authorized. This assured an improved capacity to reinforce and resupply US forces as required out of the Baghdad area. In addition, elements of the 2-2 Inf on November 9 were able to start moving westward to marry up in the city center with the Marines coming from the north. And don't forget, the first order of business early on was to take the bridges at the west end of Highway 10. This highway in Fallujah was closed.
Mosques in Fallujah used as fighting positions, as of November 20, 2004. Presented by IMEF-Multinational Force Iraq (MNC-I) briefing, "Telling the Fallujah story to the world," November 24, 2004.
While November 10 was a difficult day, US and Iraqi forces captured the Al Tawfiq, Hydra and Muhammadia mosques, the latter mosque being the site of one of the largest battles of the assault. With regard to the Muhammadia mosque, Iraqi Security Forces were the ones to actually take it.
Hadhrah Al-Muhammdaiyah Mosque in Fallujah, November 10, 2004. This mosque was used as a storage facility for military equipment, weapons and as a fortress to initiate attacks. Presented by IMEF-Multinational Force Iraq (MNC-I) briefing, "Telling the Fallujah story to the world," November 24, 2004.
Each of these mosques were being used as enemy command posts, supply depots, ammunition dumps, and improvised explosive device (IED) factories. They were also being used as safe houses, and eventually fortresses from which to attack American and Iraqi forces.
Milan missile, 122mm rocket and assembled homemade missile launchers, found near the Shaki Mahmud Mosque, Western Fallujah, November 14, 2004. Presented by IMEF-Multinational Force Iraq (MNC-I) briefing, "Telling the Fallujah story to the world," November 24, 2004
The Coalition announced at the end of the day, November 10, that it controlled over 70 percent of the city.
Marines patrol the streets of Fallujah. Photo credit: USMC photo.
Furthermore, American forces had moved across Highway 10 (Phase Line Fran) and were now in the southern sectors of the city on their way to the southern edge of town, marked by Phase Line Jenna.
On November 11, US forces turned control of the Jolan district over to the Iraqi Army. By November 11, the US death toll was 18, with at least 164 wounded. The northern half of the city was generally under American control.
As had been anticipated, this zone of attack strategy across the breadth of the city had driven most enemy forces into the southern part of the city. As reported earlier, the enemy was also expecting the main attack on Fallujah to come from the south and southeast, so the enemy was by November 11 more concentrated here. The same strategy was followed, with the Army and its armor leading the way across Phase Line Jenna and the Marines following. RCT-1 moved through the Resala, Nazal and Jebail neighborhoods while RCT-7 moved south and west through the industrial area to the east.
By November 13, US officials asserted they controlled most of the city.
These 1-3 Marines from Hawaii have just made a new door into this building as part of their building-cleaning operations. Photo credit: USMC photo
The next several days were filled with heavy fighting, with the Marines conducting house-to-house search and destroy clearing missions.
This weapons cache was found on November 18, 2004, in central Fallujah. It consists of (10) 60mm, (28) 82mm, (44) 120mm, (1) 90mm High Explosive Anti Tank projectiles (HEAT), (1) 100mm HEAT, Fuses, Rocket-Propelled Grenade (RPG) parts, (3) M60 Grenades, (6) Iranian Rifle Grenades, (1) OG-9 Rocket, (27) Solid Rocket Propellant- 3-ft lengths. Presented by IMEF-Multinational Force Iraq (MNC-I) briefing, "Telling the Fallujah story to the world," November 24, 2004
Thousands of AK-47s, RPGs. Mortars and IEDs were found in the houses and mosques. Numerous tunnels had been dug under the city which connected an underground bunker and tunnels to a ring of buildings filled with weapons including anti-aircraft artillery guns. U.S. forces attacked that bunker early on November 15, 2004.
Destroyed anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) gun on rooftop of a home in western Fallujah, near the Euphrates river. Presented by I MEF-Multinational Force Iraq (MNC-I) briefing, "Telling the Fallujah story to the world," November 24, 2004.
U.S. troops remained engaged in house-to-house clearing operations. Booby-traps slowed their progress.
Soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, enter a building in Fallujah, Iraq, on November 9, 2004. Photo credit: Sgt. 1st Class Johan Charles Van Boers, U.S. Army - AP
Officials said troops generally entered houses only after tanks rammed through walls or specialists used explosives to blast the doors.
A precision air strike takes out an insurgent stronghold as Marines with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, move forward through the city of Fallujah, Iraq, November 10, 2004. Photo credit: DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Thomas D. Hudzinski, U.S. Marine Corps. Presented by USCENTCOM
Battery A, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div. preparing for artillery support fire operations from a location just outside Fallujah. Photo presented by the 1st Cav Division.
American aircraft also flew many close air support missions and attacked enemy forces in numerous buildings throughout the city, while support from artillery positions around the city was continuous.
C Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, firing their artillery for effect. Photo presented by USMC.
To give you a sense for the intensity of the artillery fire, C Btry 1-12 Marines fired some 1,500 rounds, we think, the most rounds fired during the operation.
As of November 15, 2004, thirty-eight U.S. troops, six Iraqi soldiers and an estimated 1,200 enemy had been killed. Three of the U.S. fatalities were non-battle related injuries. Approximately 275 U.S. troops were listed as wounded. Others have written the wounded toll was far higher.
On November 16, 2004, U.S. military officials announced that American troops had secured Fallujah but that there were still sporadic instances of insurgent activity. U.S. Marines were still involved in fighting in certain sections of the city while Iraqi forces conducted search and cordon operations in and around Fallujah.
We'll stop the general description of the battle here. As far as we can tell, the US lost at least 50 troops with several hundred wounded.
We'd now like to provide some more detailed insights into what the troops on the ground experienced.
The thoughts of a few who fought and saw this fight