Monday, November 08, 2004

The Assault Begins

The ground assault on Fallujah has apparently started -- from a surprising direction -- the river. According to the Bakersfield Californian

US forces stormed into western districts of Fallujah early Monday, seizing the main city hospital and securing two key bridges over the Euphrates river in what appeared to be the first stage of the long-expected assault on the insurgent stronghold. ... The action began after sundown on the outskirts of the city, which has been sealed off by U.S. and Iraqi forces, and the minaret-studded skyline was lit up with huge flashes of light. Flares were dropped to illuminate targets, and defenders fought back with heavy machine gunfire. Flaming red tracer rounds streaked through the night sky from guerrilla positions inside the city, 40 miles west of Baghdad.

Although nothing is certain in war, there are indications that the reduction of Fallujah has a timeline measured in weeks rather than months. The British Black Watch regiment, which Chester believes is playing the role of a blocking force outside Fallujah has a been attached to the operation for 30 days from the end of October.

Blair has promised to bring the Black Watch home by Christmas. The senior officer said: "The operation is approximately thirty days' duration, approximately, i.e., it could be longer. And we've heard, but not formally, that we could be replaced, but that is a political, high-level military decision which I'm not going to go into."

As Chester puts it, the British troops block any retreat to the north and east of the Euphrates (which is in the direction away from where the Marines assaulted last night the anvil to hammer)

the Black Watch has moved to positions east of the Euphrates, at the request of US military commanders, in order to "stop reinforcements moving north and block the way of insurgents leaving the city."  This is consistent with my prediction last week that the Black Watch will be serving as a blocking force, so that it can clean up any insurgents who flee to the east of the city of Fallujah.

Presumably US planners have calculated that resistance in the central redoubt will have crumbled before the end of November and enemy survivors would then be trying to evade crosscountry to other Sunni towns to make sense of the Black Watch deployment. It should also be recalled that the Fallujah operation is part of a wider campaign against other strongholds in the Sunni triangle. In this connection, the 60-day declaration of Martial Law by Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawie on December 7 suggests a time horizon for related operations.

Marine Corps News reports that several embedded reporters are having second thoughts about accompanying combat troops into the city on the basis of what they have been briefed to expect.

The Marines recently embedded more than 30 media agencies with units that are operating in the Al Anbar province where the well-known towns of Ramadi and Fallujah are located. All were invited, many accepted the offer, but now some have doubts. The Marines are trained for this, the media is not, continued the CNN reporter who was actually covered other battles including the Iraq invasion during the spring of 2003.

One photographer, who has prided himself since his arrival here, on being in more than 17 conflicts, says he is more worried about this operation than any before. Because of the tactics the insurgents are using there is much more uncertainty, he explained. He went on to say that he did not expect to have this much access or be this involved with the Marines when he arrived. “What if I get separated, what if I think I’m in a safe place and all of a sudden an insurgent walks in with a gun,” he said.

Many of these reporters are experienced men who have been under some type of fire before. But the urban combat facing the troops they will accompany will probably consist of small units in constantly moving through a very dangerous kind of environment,  full of IEDs, snipers and close-range engagements. In this situation, getting lost may well mean dying from enemy fire or blue on blue. Sticking close to Marine infantry advancing under fire is only slightly more palatable. Everyone knows the saying that 'war is hell, you cannot refine it'; but Sherman might have added, 'you cannot describe it'. The Marines and many reporters will come to know what can never be described and what no sane person should ever hope to experience at first hand.