Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Hell in a Very Small Place

The Bakersfield Californian reports that US forces have reached the major east-west highway that runs through Fallujah.

U.S. Marines said American forces had taken control Wednesday of 70 percent of Fallujah in the third day of a major offensive to retake the insurgent stronghold. Major Francis Piccoli, of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said enemy fighters were bottled up in a strip of the city flanking the major east-west highway that splits Fallujah. Army and Marine units had pushed south to the highway overnight, Piccoli said.

... As the American forces crossed the highway that split Fallujah, armored Army units stayed behind to guard the thoroughfare.

To realize the significance of this, refer to this map from Global Security, which shows the start lines of the participating American units: USMC 3/1, USMC 3/5, Army 2/7 Cavalry, USMC 1/8, USMC 1/3 and  Army 2/2 Infantry. These units were attacking north to south, down towards the highway. The east-west highway referred to in the paragraph above is the bright green line running horizontally across the map. US Army armor is now on that highway, after advancing south and probably swinging west. US forces are probably waiting across the highway. We are fairly sure of this because the London Telegraph recounted how a US Army Cavalry Unit was moving through the industrial area which is located in the southeast corner of the city, below the green line which represents the highway which US armor is now patrolling going north to south; that is up towards the highway. We know it is cavalry because they call their companies "troops".

The flimsy metal door was ripped off its hinges as a hefty boot from a Legion platoon soldier made decisive contact. Inside the small room lay an AK-47 rifle, alarm clock parts and a handwritten notebook in Farsi. Moments earlier, the gunman, thought to be Iranian, had fled as Legion, Hunter and Outlaw platoons of the US army's Task Force 2-2 undertook one of the more dangerous tasks of the battle for Fallujah. Clearing buildings door to door in a guerrilla stronghold is risky at any time. Into the bargain this time, the platoons from Phantom troop had been ordered to sweep Fallujah's industrial zone, a haven for foreign fighters.

Simply reading the map shows that the enemy is pinned in a strip north of the highway, which is now a barrier to further escape south. As Major Piccoli put it, the "enemy fighters were bottled up in a strip of the city flanking the major east-west highway that splits Fallujah". Pressing them against the highway are four US battalions from the north and two from the east. Two days ago, the Telegraph carried an interview with Captain Natalie Friel, which eerily anticipated this very outcome.

"They're probably thinking that we'll come in from the east," said Capt Natalie Friel, an intelligence officer with task force, before the battle. But the actual plan involves penetrating the city from the north and sweeping south. "I don't think they know what's coming. They have no idea of the magnitude," she said. "But their defences are pretty circular. They're prepared for any kind of direction. They've got strong points on all four corners of the city." The aim was to push the insurgents south, killing as many as possible, before swinging west. They would then be driven into the Euphrates.

The reader is invited to draw his own conclusions about the enemy's prospects in this position. They are pinned against the highway, with no exit north, east or south.


An AFP-Reuters story has more details on the situation in Fallujah.

"If everything goes as planned we will take full control of the city in the next 48 hours," the officer said, on condition of anonymity. The officer said the troops would still need up to a week to make the north-east corner of Falluja safe "and at least 10 days to clear the city". "For now we are clearing pockets of resistance."

Back in World War 2, this would have been described as the "end of organized resistance" and the start of "mop-up operations". Historically mop-up operations on Pacific Islands could last for weeks and months. It won't be easy. There are probably many tons of unexploded ordnance lying around, undetonated IEDs and more than a few bypassed tunnels and bolt-holes with holdouts in them. US troops are still probably going to suffer casualties in the coming days cleaning that mess up. But the focus has already moved on to the "slaughterhouses" and charges that 'we let Zarqawi get away'. No one is seriously alleging that 'US troops have been fought to a standstill' anymore.

Signs of the gruesome killings of hostages were found by Iraqi troops in the northern districts, according to an Iraqi general who called himself the chief spokesman for the operation. "We have found hostage slaughter houses in Falluja that were used by these people and the black clothing that they used to wear to identify themselves, hundreds of CDs and whole records with names," Major General Abdul Qader Mohan told reporters.

Here at least, is one reason why geographical sanctuaries are useful to "evanescent" resistants.