Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Enemy Starts to Collapse

Enemy resistance in Fallujah is starting to collapse, with US forces deep inside the city and fighters pulling back to their ultimate stronghold in the Jolan district. There is no more room to retreat with the Euphrates to the west and American forces on every side.

Troops have been advancing towards the center, fighting insurgents armed with rifles and mortars street by street. Early on Tuesday the US-led troops reached a key objective early -- a mosque in the north part of Falluja. ... The BBC's Paul Wood, embedded with US soldiers - and whose reporting is subject to military restrictions - says US-led forces reached their first major objective early on Tuesday, when they surrounded al-Hidra mosque in the northern parts of Falluja. The US military said the building was being used as an arms depot and a meeting point for the leaders of the insurgency. Our correspondent says Iraqi forces fighting alongside US marines will storm it.

Earlier, a US tank commander said guerrillas were putting up a strong fight in the north-western Jolan district. "These people are hardcore," Capt Robert Bodisch told Reuters news agency. "A man pulled out from behind a wall and fired an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) at my tank. I have to get another tank to go back in there."

"I can see heavy street-fighting from my house in the center of the city -- US soldiers are here, moving from house to house", according to BBC reporter Fadil Badrani.

A synoptic view of the same engagement comes from Ned Parker in the Australian.

US troops moved from house to house through the Jolan neighbourhood of Fallujah yesterday, knocking down walls and spraying machinegun fire at buildings from which insurgents fought back with small arms and mortars. The US forces, supported by Iraqi soldiers, pushed towards the centre of the besieged rebel city as columns of smoke plumed skyward after a night of heavy air raids and artillery shelling. "We are downing them," said US marine officer Major Todd Desgrosseilliers. "We're using good old American firepower."

A smattering of trained Iraqi forces accompanied the marines in their assault on the city, while more were poised on the outskirts, preparing to enter in an offensive codenamed Phantom Fury. Helicopter gunships swooped overhead, dropping flares on buildings from where the muzzles of insurgent rocket launchers jutted out, while the rebels fought back with anti-aircraft fire. White and red flashes lit the sky in a relentless barrage of artillery shells and aerial bombing that thundered throughout the night.

Mortars are what the enemy has for reserves, the only part of their firepower that remains mobile on the Fallujah battlefield because its high-angle fire allows it to shoot over obstacles in built up areas. Enemy forces have also been known to volley RPGs upward into neighboring streets. But their fire is largely blind. They have no comms and direction centers to mass fires or shift them as the battle progresses. The BBC press account indicates that heavy armor has actually penetrated deep inside the city (with an armor company commander joking about the disabling of his vehicle) with infantry progressing over and through the walls of houses on either side (probably what the BBC reporter is describing as 'moving from house to house').

Today's news will tell whether American commanders have decided to keep up the tempo and profit from enemy confusion or slow down and reduce the remainder by fire. One of the factors will be the condition of the Iraqi troops fighting alongside Americans. As suggested in the article above, Iraqi troops are employed to clean out areas like mosques that have been bypassed by US forces. This is dangerous and exhausting work. The limited number of trained Iraqi troops may enforce a limit on tempo. As the enemy fragments it will become a battle of small unit holdouts in dozens of locations. Each enemy position is doomed but they will take time to clean out.

Readers will remember that Fallujah is only a part of the wider campaign in the Sunni triangle. Chester has pointed out that the 3rd Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, identified as fighting at Fallujah, was detached from Ramadi. The enemy is now trying to relieve pressure on Fallujah with demonstration attacks in Ramadi, where they may have sensed the departure of the battalion. This has taken the form of a repulsed car bomb attack on checkpoints controlling access to the city and low level skirmishing. This report from the AP describes how two enemy vehicles were destroyed as they bore down on a checkpoint.

The military says five U-S troops have been injured after they attacked two suspected car bombs in the Iraqi city of Ramadi. It also says seven insurgents were killed in yesterday's attack. It gave few other details, but says the U-S troops wounded had shot at and destroyed the vehicles.

In a portentous development, the Marines have apparently withdrawn their observation posts inside Ramadi. Middle East Online reports:

Rebel fighters massed in the centre of the restive Iraqi city of Ramadi Tuesday after US military snipers withdrew from their positions following 24 hours of clashes, an AFP correspondent said. The US military could not immediately be contacted for comment.

US snipers left a hotel from where they were able to control most of Ramadi's main roads, but the military remained in its headquarters in the governor's office nearby, the correspondent said. Other US soldiers left the city for their bases in the east and west of the city.

As the snipers departed, large crowds of armed insurgents, their faces hidden by scarves, began dancing in the street and shooting in to the air, yelling "Allah Akbar" (God is great). Banners proclaiming solidarity with insurgents in Fallujah, where US-led forces launched a massive offensive to retake the city on Monday, were hung in the streets. "The residents of Ramadi condemn the attack against Fallujah and we appeal to the inhabitants of Ramadi to wage jihad against the American occupants who want to eradicate Islam," said one man who did not want to be named.

An earlier generation of historians would call the withdrawal of snipers "bringing in the pickets" and concentrating the fist. The feeble enemy response suggests a real weakness. The car bomb attack and public demonstration of "fighters" who are apparently unable to hinder the comings and goings of snipers will be portrayed as a great jihadi victory but is pathetic in reality. They are being measured for a pine box and the best they can do is caper in the streets. In a few days 3rd Battalion will be back in Ramadi, together with powerful units currently busy in Fallujah and the dance tempo will change to a funeral march unless the enemy lays down his arms. Wellington once observed that "nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won." Nothing about it is nice; but better them than us.


An Agence France Press report describes the terrible closed loop of networked firepower. For the first time in a major battle, guided artillery is being used quantity. In addition to the now familiar JDAMs, or GPS guided bombs, there are now GPS guided shells. Space based positioning satellites, laser range finding, robotics and networked computing are now as much a part of infantry combat as the boot heel.

"Body parts everywhere!" cries a US soldier as a shell crashes onto a group of suspected rebels in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, where a punishing torrent of firepower thundered down on Tuesday.

More than 500 rounds of 155-millimetre Howitzer cannon shells have been fired on the besieged Sunni stronghold west of Baghdad since a US-Iraqi offensive to take control of the city started on Monday evening, said Sergeant Michael Hamby. Using a global positioning system, each shell is precision aimed and fired at insurgent spots, while unmanned reconnaisance aircraft check whether the target was hit and feed back the information, Hamby told AFP.

"We probably had 20-to-30 air strikes in the Jolan and probably two-to-three times that in artillery missions," he said. Attack helicopters swooped overhead, dropping flares on buildings from where the muzzle of insurgent rocket heads jutted out.

Though the enemy is to be frank, very brave, news reports them falling back everywhere. The Washington Post says:

Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, commander of multinational forces in Iraq, predicted "several more days of tough urban fighting." He said insurgents were "fighting hard, but not to the death. They are falling back," adding that the U.S. advance was progressing "ahead of schedule."

The enemy withdrawals have sometimes been explained by suggesting that the enemy is suckering in US forces into a trap. But this is impossible. Their backs are to the river and the Marines are across that. Every retrograde movement compresses the enemy into a smaller area and forces them to leave behind prepared positions painstakingly stockpiled with food, batteries and ammo. Running backward with wounded, they can't carry much ammunition and won't find any unless a prepared position is already available. And how does anyone stand fast in the face of the otherworldly violence of the American onslaught?

Small bands of gunmen -- fewer than 20 -- were engaging U.S. troops, then falling back in the face of overwhelming fire from American tanks, 20mm cannons and heavy machine guns, said Time magazine reporter Michael Ware, embedded with troops. Ware reported that there appeared to be no civilians in the area he was in. On one thoroughfare in the city, U.S. troops traded fire with gunmen holed up in a row of houses about 100 yards away. An American gunner on an armored vehicle let loose with his machine gun, grinding the upper part of a small building to rubble.

This is a description of platoon-sized enemy units attempting to hold back the Martians. The bravado of Al Jazeera has this completely wrong. If classical history were still widely taught, these scenes would be instantly recognizable as a rout, that terrible disintegration of ranks as the foe closes in before and behind. Describing the rout of the Roman Legions by Hannibal at Cannae, Livy wrote:

It was a terrible slaughter. ... On a narrow area 48,000 corpses lay in heaps. ... Hannibal once more released non-Roman prisoners. ... Roman knight's gold rings were collected in baskets and later poured out onto the floor of the Carthaginian senate. One of the consuls Lucius Aemilius Paulus (and one of the preceding year's) were killed, as well as both quaestors of the consuls, 29 out of 48 military tribunes and 80 other senators.

There can be no joy in war: it is always repulsive in actual detail, but if we are not left with the facts, then the world is deprived even of the doleful experience of the battlefield. The jihadi dream was a fraud. September 11 opened the door, not to Paradise but the portal to Hell and the jihadi nightmare will continue for as long as they are nourished on illusion and false encouragement. We are not their permanent enemies; that foe is within their breast.