Infantry: July 22, 2005

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The U.S. Marine Corps has derived a lot of useful information from their two week battle to clear Some 4,000 terrorists out of Fallujah last November. The city had 99.5 percent of its civilian population evacuated before the fighting, a deliberate American policy, to deny the Islamic radicals the propaganda value of dead civilians, and opportunities to kill American troops holding their fire to avoid civilian casualties. By early November, enemy fighters outnumbered the remaining civilians by about four to one.

The marines also made a major intelligence effort to sort out who was in Fallujah and what kind of fight they would put up. Armed with this knowledge, the marines developed an attack plan that had the initial attack coming from a direction the defenders were not expecting it. This ruined the effect of the barricades and roadside bombs the defenders had prepared. 

The attacking force consisted of four marine infantry battalions and two army tank (actually mixed tanks and infantry in M-2 Bradleys) battalions. Other marine and army units circled the city to catch those still trying to get out, or in. There were artillery and engineers in support, plus air force bombers overhead. UAVs and a SOCOM AC-130s prevented the enemy from moving at night. This was done with night vision gear, and the ability quickly fire on anyone moving down there. 

The city had some 39,000 buildings, and each day of the battle, about a hundred marine rifle squads (three per rifle platoon) were out there searching those buildings each day, assisted by about fifty army tank and mech infantry platoons. The army units were mainly used to plunge into areas thought to contain enemy fighters, to draw their fire and locate them. The tanks and Bradleys would kill as many of the enemy as they could, but it took marine riflemen going into buildings to finish the job. The marines also had some of the 60 ton D-9 armored bulldozers, that could plow right through most buildings. 

The most widely used weapons, however, were the AT-4 anti-tank rockets. Platoons would use a dozen or more of these a day to clear out rooms or take down walls. Lots of explosives (C-4, plastic explosive) were used, often in very imaginative ways, to assist in clearing the enemy out of buildings, along with the usual hand grenades. About a third of the AT-4s used new thermobaric (fuel air explosive) warheads, which could clear out an entire house, and stun anyone it didnt kill. The AT-4 gunners became quite proficient. The average range was about 400 meters, and most AT-4 gunners could put them right through a window 90 percent of the time. 

The battle became something of a predictable grind, with 2-4 encounters a day for each platoon, while searching 60-80 buildings. Each encounter usually resulted in one or two dozen dead terrorists, and a few marine casualties (usually wounded). A third of marine casualties took place inside buildings, when hidden enemy gunmen were found. Depending on what part of the city they fought in, the average marine rifle squad participated in 8-24 fights over two weeks, each lasting from fifteen minutes to an hour or so. This doesnt count those hundreds of instances where one or two gunmen would pop out of a building to fire on oncoming American troops. These enemy would almost always be quickly killed. The more experienced, or disciplined, fighters, barricaded themselves inside a building and forced the marines to either come after them or, as happened about twenty times a day.

Tanks were also used to deal with enemy resistance. Each tank fired one or two dozen 120mm shells a day, 500-100 .50 caliber and over 2,000 7.62mm machine-gun rounds a day. The M1 tanks were immune to any weapons the Fallujah defenders had and often provided all the heavy firepower the marines needed to clear out a building. The marines also made heavy use of snipers, but these were pretty much out of targets after the first week, as the enemy generally stayed inside, or ventured out only with great care. 

Tanks and bombers were called in if the marines had confirmed a bunch of enemy holding out in a building. A 500 JDAM (satellite guided) bomb would take care of those. But when the enemy gunmen were encountered inside the building, only the training, leadership and discipline of the marines made the difference. Each marine platoon had its three rifle platoons operating independently most of the time, clearing an assigned batch of buildings, and developing improved tactics as they did so. Company and battalion commanders had the use of UAVs and helicopters over head to keep an eye on what was going on down below. Satellite photography provided photo-accurate maps of the city for troops and leaders. 

The marines perfected many existing tactics, and developed some new ones because of their experience in Fallujah. The battle also yielded a large amount of intelligence information on the anti-government forces in Iraq. Although most of the senior enemy people fled the city before the marine attack began, they left many documents, and lower ranking fighters willing to talk. 

There were also several hundred carefully selected Iraqi troops along for the battle, and they performed well. But the Iraqis were not put to work like the marines were, and the Iraqis were in awe at the speed and efficiency the marines used when they cleared buildings. 

There were about 500 American and Iraqi casualties in the fighting, and 1,200 enemy killed, and another 1,500 captured (many of them wounded.). The biggest casualty, however, was the reputation of the anti-government forces. The al Qaeda and Sunni Arab gunmen had boasted that they would hold Fallujah, and kill hundreds of Americans in the process. The American death toll was under fifty, and the city was cleared of enemy fighters in two weeks. The boasting backfired, and Fallujah has become a word the anti-government forces dont want to hear any more. 

 


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