Readers may wish to go to The Adventures of Chester, authored by a Marine veteran of Iraq. He believes the enemy in that town is led by Abu Musab Zarqawi and sketches out the enemy order of battle, which could be from 1 to 8 thousand men.
What is the troop strength of the insurgents in Fallujah? Estimates range from 1000-8000. Does Zarqawi remain in Fallujah? I bet that he is there. After spending months -- actually a year or more -- building a base of support there, it is unlikely that he could replicate anywhere else the command and control that he has built for himself in Fallujah. Plus, his departure would be very demoralizing to those who remain there (though of course, they may not know his whereabouts themselves). Overall, hard to tell how many bad guys are in Fallujah, but the good news is that the place has been surrounded and cordoned off for a couple of weeks now, and it's a good guess that anyone left inside is only there to fight. A cleaner, less confusing battlefield is good for us and bad for them. Also, if Zarqawi hasn't left yet, he ain't getting out now.
Chester points out that while Fallujah is an important objective, it's seizure must be part of the entire reduction of the Al-Anbar insurgent strongholds. Therefore Ramadi is likely to be reduced as well. For more on the possible timings and directions of assault, go to his site.
The upcoming offensive is getting more and more press, more and more frequently. My initial focus was on Fallujah, but now on second thought I think it a certainty that Ramadi is going to be hit too. Look for 5th Marines to hit Ramadi, 1st Marines to assault Fallujah, and 7th Marines to continue guarding the Syrian border in the West, and possibly act as an operational reserve. They've probably shifted a good bit of the armor that is normally a part of 7th Marines (like 1st Tank Battalion) over to either 1st or 5th. Bet on it.
1st Marines is a brigade-sized force of about 3 thousand men and the other units are of the same size, all part of the First Marine Division. Chester's exposition above reveals a great deal about the nature of the conflict the US is facing in Iraq. The deployments suggest that Syria is the operational rear of the insurgents in the Sunni Triangle, which is why 7th Marines has been positioned to interdict the infiltration flow. The infiltration trickle finds its way to various sumps, or collection areas, where they are concentrated, tasked and launched out on attacks. Ramadi and Fallujah are probably typical of these. As Chester pointed out, they serve as command and control and probably training bases.
1st Marines will be supported by attachments, such as a logistics group and both aerial and artillery fires. The Iraqi component may consist of a slightly smaller force. The possible ground force deployed against Fallujah will be on the order of 5,000 men of whom about 3 thousand will be American. A glance at a large scale map (courtesy of Global Security) will give the reader a feel for the terrain.
The enemy has attempted a spoiling attack on a convoy of Marines, possibly a support unit, was hit as it made its way to Fallujah's outskirts today. Eight Marines were killed and the Iraqi troops accompanying them returned fire which may have killed 14 civilians in vehicles on the highway. The pre-battle maneuver may have started in earnest.
On Saturday, insurgents fired mortars at Marine positions outside Fallujah. U.S. troops responded with "the strongest artillery barrage in recent weeks," according to Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Lyle Gilbert. Later in the afternoon, a Marine Harrier jet bombed a guerrilla mortar position inside Fallujah, then strafed it with machine-gun fire, Gilbert said. He had no reports of insurgent casualties. Crowds of Iraqis peered skyward as a pair of warplanes circled over the rebel-held city, where large explosions rumbled Saturday afternoon. Insurgents fired rockets and mortars toward U.S. Marine positions.
Fallujah watchers will have noticed that the Marines are closing out a last round of negotiations for surrender while they have been progressively shutting down insurgent checkpoints within the city by hitting them with smart munitions. My own speculation is that the negotiations were launched, not in the expectation of getting Zarqawi to lay down his arms, but in order to negotiate a separate peace with the different factions in town. The impending assault has been used as a negotiating lever to create gaps in the enemy ranks. This process is calculated to blind the enemy by shutting down his pickets and poison his intelligence channels -- not to mention introducing mutual suspicion and internecine fighting.
The main event next week will doubtless be the Presidential elections but for Marines in Anbar, their minds may will be on matters closer at hand.