Assault in Falluja Is Likely, U.S. Officers Say

Military Assault in Falluja Is Likely, U.S. Officers Say (NYT)

A military offensive by American and Iraqi forces to reclaim rebel-held Falluja is probably inevitable and would be the largest and potentially the riskiest since the end of major combat in May 2003, senior American officers say. It would also involve major operations to seize control of Ramadi, another contested Sunni Muslim city 30 miles away, and to shut Syrian border crossings to prevent foreign fighters from streaming into Iraq, Marine commanders here say. This expanded set of combat operations reflects a growing consensus among American military commanders and Iraqi government officials that the insurgencies in the two nearby cities are linked and must be quelled at the same time.

The timing and decision to carry out any attacks or close any border crossings is up to the prime minister, Ayad Allawi, senior Marine officers say. But as peace negotiations with representatives of Falluja have broken down, senior officers say it could be just weeks before air and ground attacks begin, in a battle that officers estimate could last from several days to two weeks. “If we’re told to go, it’ll be decisive,” Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, the commander of nearly 40,000 marines and soldiers in western and south-central Iraq, said in an interview. “The goal will be to limit the damage, limit the casualties and do it as rapidly and decisively as possible. We’re not here to destroy the town. We’re here to give it back.”

The issue extends far beyond Falluja and Ramadi. Military officials said smashing the resistance there would deal a blow to the insurgency nationally, because Falluja in particular has been a haven and staging ground for attacks. Defeating insurgents there could help to calm the nation and set the conditions for elections, commanders say. Senior officers say they are mindful that an attack on Falluja and Ramadi could set off uprisings in other Sunni towns and possibly in Sadr City, an impoverished Shiite area of Baghdad that exploded in violence during the revolts in April. But military officers say they are planning for such contingencies. Several important military and political decisions remain to be made before any attack, officers said. Britain is redeploying about 850 troops from Basra to an area south of Baghdad to free up American forces to swing into position near Falluja. Iraqi security forces have not yet moved into position, though General Sattler said that would happen quickly once the order is given. A last-minute settlement also is possible, as has happened before at Falluja.

Commanders here insist that the planning and timing for any possible offensive has not been influenced by the American elections on Nov. 2 and that political issues have not come up in discussions with their military and civilian superiors in Baghdad or at the Pentagon.

Indeed, one would think a decisive assualt into Fallujah would be underway now if influencing the election was the desired objective. President Bush would almost certainly gain support–and shut down Senator Kerry’s ability to criticize the conduct of the war–if major combat operations were underway, especially since victory would be inevitable.

We should have done this months ago rather than letting the insurgency fester. Our forces are so much better trained than the opposition that it only makes sense for us to have the initiative. Instead, our troops have been in reactive mode, letting the terrorists choose the time and place for engagement. A stable Iraq, if it can ever exist, can come about only after the armed militants are defeated. That’s not going to happen through negotiations, gun buybacks, or other passive strategies.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tiger says:

    I do not know that such can be done, however, as I sense most of the insurgents are from other Islamic countries. I suppose a full-front attack would only drive them back to the countries to regroup, rearm, and get reinforcements. As I have said all along — whether you believe this particular war is justified or not, has it not served to bring the War on Terrorism to or close to the source of the enemy support which, in my opinion, is so much better than fighting it on our homeground? Iraq, by its very position is right in the midst of Al-Queda’s backyard and with a swift movement through Kuwait, we could easily take the battle into the very front yard of the people whom I believe most responsible for supporting and protecting all the terrorist actions against the US.

  2. Andy says:

    British troops from the Black Watch are already moving north to take up positions vacated by US troops. They are expected to be fully in place within days, so US action must be imminent.

    It’ll be interesting (from a morbid perspective) to see what the exact timing of the assault will be – just before or after the election. I find it hard to believe that the timing of the attack will be *purely* based on operational considerations. Before the election is risky because of the risk of casualties, but if it pays off it will show George Bush as a decisive leader.

  3. ken says:

    When was Ramadi lost to the insurgents that it now has to be taken back? I know US forces never held Falluja, but when did they lose Ramadi?

  4. ken says:

    “A stable Iraq, if it can ever exist, can come about only after the armed militants are defeated. That’s not going to happen through negotiations, gun buybacks, or other passive strategies. ”

    And after thirty five years in occupation of the west bank, Isreal has proved it’s not going to happen by any means at all. It seems the natives of the region would rather make their own history than have outsiders make it for them, no matter how long it takes or what price they have to pay.

    Just a reality based observation.

  5. leaddog2 says:

    Ken,

    There is NO “loss” of Ramadi. Marines are still there, but Islamist homicidial maniacs will need to be eliminated there also.

  6. subsunk says:

    Ken,

    The Islamists have been moving into Ramadi over the last several months and have reached a mass sufficient to intimidate all the Iraqi government forces stationed in Ramadi. Only about 300 soldiers from the Iraqi Intervention Force are trustworthy and able to work. They are not from Ramadi.

    But the Marines are increasingly needing larger force protection measures to traverse Ramadi. I look for two or three “regiments” or Brigade combat teams to take Ramadi, and one brigade/regiment to take Fallujah. I think there will be a decisive end to this in two weeks from the word go. The unrest will increase around Latifiya once the assault begins because the Brits are new to that area, and the terrorists have kicked out the Shiites from that area (they were only 20% there) and so there is no one to provide good intel against the terrorists. This may be the major problem.

    Sadr City will be relatively quiet because 1st Cav is ready to destroy any Sadrists and just wants an excuse to do so. The rest of Iraq will be quiet, because the Marines killed so many Sadrists in August. My best guess with little actual input from the theater. So what do I know.

    I hope they have good hunting.

    Subsunk