Operation Al-Fajar

The Enemy

In April 2004, coalition forces in Iraq estimated around 500 hardcore non-state actors living in the city of Fallujah.  Within seven months, however, that number increased to around 3,500 armed insurgents representing just about every extremist group in Iraq, including al-Qaeda Iraq (AQI), the Islamic Army of Iraq (IQI), Ansar al-Sunna, the Army of Mohammed (AOM), the Army of the Mujahedeen, the Secret Army of Iraq, and the National Islamic Army (1920 Revolutionary Brigade). Assisting these committed extremists were an additional 1,000 part-time insurgents.

Within that seven months, the insurgents prepared fortified positions in anticipation of another coalition forces assault.  They dug tunnels, trenches, spider-holes and set into place numerous IEDs. They also set in the so-called Jersey Barriers, creating strong points behind which they could fire on approaching enemy. In some areas, they filled empty homes with bottles of propane gas, drums of gasoline, ordinance, and wired these materials for remote detonation should coalition forces enter those buildings during clearing operations.

Thanks to the liberal proliferation of U.S. manufactured arms, the insurgents were heavily armed with M-14s, M-16s, body armor, western-style uniforms and helmets, and handguns.  The insurgents also booby-trapped vehicles parked alongside roadways, streets, and alleys.  They bricked up stairwells to prevent coalition troops from getting to the roofs of buildings and established avenues of approach to deadly fields of fire.

According to coalition intelligence reports, in addition to the Iraqis, the insurgents included fighters from Chechnya, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Syria — and perhaps a few from the U.K. and U.S.  As is true in almost every armed conflict, civilian residents began fleeing the city.  By late October, around 80% of the citizenry had vacated their homes and businesses.

The Coalition

In October, the U.S. and Iraqi military forces began establishing checkpoints around the entire city to prevent anyone from entering and to intercept insurgents attempting to flee — many of whom disguised themselves as members of fleeing families.  Mapping specialists began to capture aerial imagery to prepare maps of the city.  Iraqi interpreters joined coalition ground units.  While these tasks were underway, coalition forces began to deliver airstrikes and artillery fire on areas known to contain insurgents.

American, British, and Iraqi forces totaled around 14,000 men.  Of these, 6,500 U.S. Marines, 1,500 U.S. soldiers, and 2,500 U.S. Navy personnel.  Coalitions forces formed two regimental combat teams.  RCT-1 included the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines (3/1), 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (3/5), Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 4 (NMCB-4), Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 23 (NMCB-23), and the 2nd Battalion, U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment (2/7CAV).[1]

RCT-7 included 1st Battalion, 8th Marines (1/8), 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines (1/3), Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines (Charlie 1/12), 2nd Battalion, U.S. 2nd Infantry (2/2INF), 2nd Battalion, U.S. 12th Cavalry (2/12CAV) and the 1st Battalion, U.S. 6th Field Artillery (1/6thFLD).  Around 2,000 Iraqi troops integrated with the RCTs during the assault.  The forward elements received air support from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rdMAW) and other available Navy and Air Force fixed-wing air units.  Additional Army battalions provided artillery support, and the U.S. Special Operations Command provided snipers.

The 1st Battalion of the Black Watch Regiment (1/BWR) assisted coalition forces with the encirclement of Fallujah, designated Task Force Black.  D Squadron, SAS prepared to take part in the assault and would have, were it not for British politicians who reneged at the last minute before the assault.

The Fight

Ground operations kicked off during the night of 7 November 2004 when Marine reconnaissance teams and Navy Special Warfare teams (SEALS), moved into the city’s outer perimeter. 

With U.S. Army Special Forces Advisors, the Iraqi 6th Commando Battalion, supported by two platoons of mechanized infantry from the U.S. 2nd Brigade Combat Team, breached the city perimeter from the west and south.  Additional support elements included a platoon of Army tanks, Marine light armored vehicles, and elements of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines (1/23).  Initial successes included capturing the general hospital, Blackwater Bridge, and several villages on the western edge of the city next to the Euphrates River.  In the south, Marines from 1/3 entered the western approach securing the Jurf Kas Sukr Bridge.  Coalition commanders intended these early movements as a diversion to confuse the insurgent command element.[2]

Once Seabees disabled electrical power at two sub-stations at the northeast and northwest sections of Fallujah, RCT-1, and RCT-7, each supported by SEAL and Recon teams and augmented by 2/7CAV, 2/2INF, and Joint Tactical Aircraft Control (JTAC) elements assaulted the northern edge of the city.  Four additional infantry battalions followed the assault element as the second wave. Their mission focused on clearing operations and the seizure of significant buildings and intersections.

Augmented by the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion and Alpha Company 1/5, the U.S. 2nd Brigade Combat Team infiltrated the city, searching for and destroying fleeing enemies wherever they could find them.  1/BWR set up patrolling operations in the eastern sector.  Overwatch aircraft included USAF F-15s, F-16s, A-10s, B-52s, and AC-130 gunships.  Air Force assets included MQ-1 Predator aircraft for air surveillance and precision airstrikes.

By the early morning hours of 8 November, six U.S. and Iraqi battalions began a full assault behind massive artillery and aerial bombardments.  The coalition’s initial objectives included the central train station, which was used as a staging point for follow-on assaults.  Marines entered the Hay Nib al-Dubat and al-Naziza city districts by early afternoon.  As the Marines advanced, Seabees bulldozed buildings and cleared streets of battle debris to clear the way for other coalition movements and support mechanisms.  Before dusk, the Marines had reached the city center.

Most of the heavy fighting ended by 13 November, but a series of determined enemy strongholds continued to resist coalition forces.  Marines and special operations had to flush these isolated teams, described as “mopping up” operations, which lasted until the 23rd of December 2004.  Once the city was “mostly” clear of insurgents, coalition forces shifted their efforts toward assisting residents returning to their homes — many of whom could not believe the damage inflicted on their city.

Military historians claim that the Battle of Fallujah was the bloodiest of the Iraq War and the worst battle involving American troops since the Vietnam War.  Coalition forces suffered 99 killed and 570 wounded.  Iraqi units lost eight dead and 43 wounded.  Enemy casualties are only estimates because of the lack of official records.  Coalition and Iraqi forces captured 1,500 prisoners and killed an estimated 2,000 insurgents.[3]  Considering the number of explosives deployed inside the city, a high casualty rate is understandable.  The 1st Marine Division fired 5,685 high explosive artillery rounds.  The 3rdMAW dropped 318 precision bombs, fired 391 rockets and missiles, and unleashed over 93,000 machine gun and cannon rounds.

The damage to Fallujah’s residences, mosques, city services, and businesses was extensive.  Once known as the “City of Mosques,” coalition forces destroyed 66 of 133 mosques — those primarily defended by insurgents and those used to store arms and munitions.  Of the roughly 50,000 buildings in Fallujah, between 7,000 and 10,000 were destroyed in the offensive; half to two-thirds of all remaining buildings had notable damage.  Before the attack, somewhere around 350,000 people lived in Fallujah.  Of those, approximately 200,000 were permanently displaced.

Despite the success of the battle, it proved to be less than a decisive engagement.  Important (non-local) insurgent leaders escaped from the city before the action commenced leaving mostly local militants behind to face the coalition forces.  This was a well-established trend among Islamist leaders: stir the pot and then run for it.  At the beginning of 2005, insurgent attacks gradually increased within and around Fallujah, including IED attacks.  Notable among these was a suicide car bomb attack that killed 6 Marines.  Thirteen other Marines were injured in the attack.  Fourteen months later, insurgents were once more operating in large numbers and in the open. By September 2006, the situation in al-Anbar Province deteriorated to such an extent that only the pacified city of Fallujah remained outside the control of Islamic extremists.

A third push was mounted from September 2006 until mid-January 2007.  After four years of bitter fighting, Fallujah finally came under the control of the Iraqi military — that is until ISIS pushed the Iraqis out in 2014.  This began a new round of fighting between the Iraqi army and Islamic militants.  Iraqi military forces reclaimed Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in 2016.

Courage Under Fire

The U.S. government cited the following individuals for bravery above and beyond the call of duty during the operation:

  • Staff Sergeant David Bellavia, U.S. Army — Medal of Honor
  • Sergeant Rafael Peralta, U.S. Marine Corps — Navy Cross
  • First Sergeant Bradley Kasal, U.S. Marine Corps — Navy Cross
  • Staff Sergeant Aubrey McDade, U.S. Marine Corps — Navy Cross
  • Corporal Dominic Esquibel, U.S. Marine Corps — Navy Cross (award declined)[4]

Sources:

  1. Bellavia, D. C.  House to House: An Epic Memoir of War.  Free Press, 2007.
  2. Kasal, B.  My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story.  Meredith Books, 2007.
  3. West, B.  No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle of Fallujah.  Bantam Books, 2005
  4. O’Donnell, P.  We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder with the Marines Who Took Fallujah.  Da Capo Press, 2006
  5. Livingston, G.  Fallujah With Honor: First Battalion, Eighth Marines Role in Operation Phantom Fury.  Caisson Press, 2006

Endnotes:

[1] NMCB = Seabees

[2] Two Marine engineers died when their bulldozer collapsed into the Euphrates River.  Forty-two insurgents died in fighting along the river.

[3] Some of the dead may have been innocent civilians trapped in the middle of the battle.  The International Red Cross estimated 800 killed civilian deaths. 

[4] Fighting alongside Dominic on the date of the cited action was LCpl David Houck, his closest friend.  Esquibel was cited for carrying two wounded Marines to safety under a hail of gunfire.  On the following day, Houck was killed in action.  Esquibel would not accept the Navy Cross because he felt that those Marines, who lived, would have done the same for him.


Published by

Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.

33 thoughts on “Operation Al-Fajar”

  1. The same booby trap setup -remote explosives in buildings- was used in Afghanistan (as per a friend of mine who was doing clearing operations.) He returned two years ago, he was on point.
    It’s amazing what a gun bunny gets volunteered for.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes, courage under fire. I wonder if our men and women fought today if they could stand up next to our former vets? I hope so, but I also have my doubts. A bunch of ninnies’s nowadays.

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    1. The troops have never let their country down, Elizabeth. Their leaders may have, as Warren suggests, but the troops always do their best. In fact, I’d offer this: the American people don’t deserve their troops … they do deserve their ass-kissing flag officers, though.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Well, I stand corrected. I have so much respect for Vets and our troops. My daddy and husband are both army vets, daddy the Korean war and hubby 181st Air Borne (paratrooper). My stepdaughter is a Marine vet. I feel bad for our troops because we have a crap president that won’t help them. I have no doubt of that after Afghanistan. Furthermore, those people who are burning American flags should be kicked out to Timbuktu!

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  4. Your beginning paragraphs describe very similar defensives actions taken by the enemy 75 to 80 years ago in the Pacific… The Marines suffered most heavily.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read that before. I also understood, and this is according to my husband, who is an Army Vet that typically The Marines are the hardest hit and in his opinion the top of the line for the military. Silly me asked why he joined The Army then and not The Marines and he was quite candid when he told me “because they at that time were the easiest branch to enlist in.”

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Excuse my simple mind, but with reference to the fire bombing of Tokyo and the carpet bombing of Dresden as examples, I think we should have done the same to Fallujah. 80% of civilians evacuated and large numbers enemy persons heavily concentrated in the city?

    We could have saved a lot of American lives and maybe deterred the enemy from repeating this strategy?
    Or capitalized anytime they concentrated themselves in such a way.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Don’t know, Kid.
      Best guess is the avoidance of collateral damage. The flag officers and politicians worry a lot more about optics than the troops. If they had carpet bombed, it would have ended in a propaganda coup for the Jihadists.
      Personally, I wouldn’t give a rip, bomb them to hell and let Satan sort them out.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Warren is right in the context of how the pussies in Washington want to fight … Queensbury’s rules my ass. Somewhere along the way, senior U.S. leadership began parroting such nonsense as, “We must respond to world conditions in a manner consistent with our values.” Now, honestly, if that means that we go to war to play patty-cake with the enemy, their wives, their children, their extended families … then I have to call a bullshit time out. None of those spineless shits inside the beltway knows about traditional American values.

      Here’s a clue: listen to the words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. It tells the story of our traditional values. Those words suggest very strongly that we ought to avoid armed conflicts that are NONE of our business. They also suggest that when we DO go to war, we kick the living shit out of everyone connected with the enemy (no matter who that enemy is). Here are American values: MASSIVE war, beating the godless enemy so badly, so terribly, so horrifically, so quickly, with such awesome resolve, that NO ONE who isn’t batshit crazy would ever want another dose. That’s how you get respect in a dangerous world, and that’s how you keep muddle-headed petty dictators petrified of pissing off the United States.

      Now of course, in order to achieve that kind of fearsome reputation once more, we will, unfortunately, have to stop kissing the filthy asses of the Saudi kings and princes. In fact, the next time we bomb anyone, we should lob a few 2,000 pounders inside Mecca while we’re at it. Should the Islamic world not be happy with that, we can be their huckleberry.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. I’m obviously with You and Warren. We should have daisy cuttered a fully stocked Mecca and Medina asap in response to 9/11. Politicians have been pulling out since Vietnam based on optics or at least unwilling to get the job done as in Korea, Desert Storm and others. Our enemies must certainly believe that.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. None of those spineless shits inside the beltway knows about traditional American values. [Emphasis mine]

    I may not know or understand well the inner workings of the military but the above quote is correct. The ugliness that goes on inside the beltway is disgusting and they do not understand traditional values. Putting fighting wars aside for a moment, respectfully, of course, look at what is allowed, a degenerate, demented, and dementia-riddled so-called president. A vice-president that does not know the front of her from the back of her because she is not only clueless but braindead like her boss, Biden. Then there is the squad, who hates Margorie Taylor Greene, who has made some good points, but is the GOPs sore point as is the squad to the dems or let us just call them what they are “donkeys”. Then we have the progressives, the wokes, and BLM and they are creeps the lot of them.

    So there is no longer any moral compass in the beltway and they are beginning to make Ted Kennedy look sane. This nation has hit a new low. Back to war. At this point, someone needs to tell the people on the HILL and the WH to just “mind your own business” and “mind your nation and its citizenry” – how about just once.

    Mustang I would be curious to know what you think of Milley before I mispeak?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am glad to hear you say that. Because I was going to say in my above comment that I think he is an arse! I loathe him. Another useless idiot!

    One more question, why must the General abide by bad commands of a Commander In Chief [most have never even been in the military] when their view is not founded on tactical military sound strategies but political hogwash?

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    1. Bad is not the same as illegal and the President is “The Commander in Chief”, the supreme commander. Needs must, “civilian” control of our military through the auspices of the POTUS who answers to the ballot box.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. And Milley is playing the game right along with him to keep his control. Thanks, but not your fault. That just ruined my day, but then what else is new? Isn’t it all about the ballot box at the end of the day, not military, or civilians?

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    1. Remove Biden and Harris and we have Nana pelosi. Remove her and who do we get? How long before Nadler is in the oval office.

      The democrats are the communist party, at the least through their total disregard for the American public, it’s founding liberty based principles, culture, and morals.

      Through their total inaction to even try to reverse the life sucking problems created for America in the decades going back to 1960 (welfare, education, feeding frenzy at the Treasury, etc etc.) the Republicans have proven beyond a doubt their total uselessness to our country.

      Quite a pickle.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Mustang is it true that there is this hierarchy in the military branches that the Army is always the first to go in to prepare when there is war? I asked my husband and he said not always but told me to ask you because he did only a four-year tour and obviously if you are retired military that is a different story and knowledge base than he had to offer me, so my Johnny said to ask you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry for the PS, but the democrat destruction of the Qualified Immigrant Requirements deserves a front row seat in the life sucking problems caused by democrats (and ignored by the repubs)

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you. And really, this is the biggest hit on the USA. For example, how would we every get rid of 650,000 Somalians obama inported into Minnesota as a ‘not even tip of the iceberg’ example.
      ICE stated while DJT was in office it would take well over 100 years to deport the illegals who were already here.
      They’re all here, legal or not. We’re stuck with them. Few of them have any idea, let alone appreciation for American culture as those of us born mid last century know it. They’re here and they are breeding. Eventually they will breed out enough areas to gain political majority and that is that. Not in our lifetime, but who’s going to stop the moslems. Terrorism is practically a non-issue, it’s the breeding out that is their main strategy in western countries. Some like Sweden have already lost it seems. Denmark was years ago begging its native citizens to have sex. They actually had an ad “Screw for Denmrk” 🙂

      Anyway, that sure seems like an impossible to solve item.

      In the abstract, it is possible to turn around Welfare and Education which would be a big step in the right direction. The debt is probably not fixable. Personally, I don’t even think about the debt. We’ll default eventually. Maybe it’s all unfixable and the government has just given up long ago.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. This topic is complex, Elizabeth. I’ll try to simplify it. Each of the services has a national defense objective. The Army is the land force; the Navy-Marine Corps are the deepwater/amphibious force, I have no idea what the space and cyber forces do — although I’m guessing they’re looking for extraterrestrials and trying to figure out how China hacked into the Officer of Personnel Management a few years back and the Pentagon’s top-secret computer files. The Air Force likes to pretend that there remains a strategic air mission, such as bombing Moscow but we don’t like to discuss this in an open forum because it makes senior air force officers feel inadequate.

      There are eleven regional combat commands, and each of these is responsible for contingency planning for possible combat operations within their assigned geographic area. These are “joint commands,” which means that the commanders and staffs include service personnel from all the uniformed services. The Commander European Command might be a 4-star admiral for three years and then be replaced by an Army or Air Force 4-star. Each combat command has several contingency plans; each of these outlines for the combat commander what he will need to fight should the balloon go up. What he may need to fight will depend on a number of factors and considerations.

      “First in” depends on (a) where the trouble is, and (b) which units/commands are capable and immediately available to respond. It could be a special operations unit, an army airborne unit, or it could be a Marine expeditionary unit — but if the bruhaha is a big one, that rapidly turns into a land war, then that sort of thing is the primary responsibility of the U.S. Army. There is nothing “fast” about deploying one or more armies. An army is such a massive organization that it takes time and a gargantuan logistics effort to get it to where it’s needed.

      I hope this helps to answer your question.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Thanks for taking the time to answer my question. It was also very interesting. Now I do understand. I laughed at your remark about the Air Force. I always thought they were pumped up a little too much. Then my stepdaughter is a Marine Vet (she was in Afghanistan). I could not believe when she told her father, my husband John, that The Marines make The Army ashamed because they are. It as good. I never thought there was this sort of rivalry, valid or not. I know my husband was hurt as he is proud of his service but he never even said a word told me later that’s how it is. My daddy was still alive then so of course I called him as he is a Korean War Vet, Army also. He told me it was a stupid remark and like you made som wise crack about the Air Force, typical of my daddy. Thanks again for the explanation.

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  11. Several years ago, I interviewed my aunt who survived the foreboding of Tokyo. The father of another WordPress friend was one of the B-29 pilots who bombed Japan. We partnered up and I ended up writing a four part series on the firebombing of Tokyo. BTW, my dad served in the 8th US Army Military Intelligence Service albeit post-hostilities and his sister survived the atomic bomb as did her children – now mostly in their eighties.

    Having said that, what Kidme37 said about leveling the enemy’s city to save young American boys – that is what happened in 1945. War ended without having to invade Japan for which a million Purple Hearts were stamped. They are still being issued today.

    I do believe a blockade of Japan would have caused hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians to starve. Indeed, as well off my mother and aunt’s family was before the war (aristocrats living within a stone’s throw from the Imperial Palace), they had little food. Orphans, of which there were thousands, would have also perished.

    What am I trying say at my decrepit old age and failing eyesight? I don’t know except to say that FDR, Chamberlain/Churchill, Hitler, etc., are the culprits. The politicians who messed up causing MILLIONS of civilians to die along with millions of military answering the call to duty…

    Sorry if there are typos; I cam no longer see well.

    God bless America and the US Marine Corps.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I have always viewed the Atomic bombing of Japan as saving their culture as much as our military members.

      Generally speaking though and your mention of “world leaders’ – for WWII in this case , what unbelievable evil. At least in WWII, Hitler was on the run for world domination.
      From what I know about WWI, it seems they all went to war on a whim. What unspeakable evil.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I am wondering if “WWI” in your comment was a typo? If you are referring to WWII, I do not believe these leaders went to war “on a whim”. Historical facts, I believe, leave me to conclude it was schemed for.

      As a bit of buried history, about 500 of the 6,000 Japanese-Americans who got assigned to US 8th Army Military Intelligence were “kibei” – a subset of “Nisei”. A huge percentage of the 5,500 Nisei who were taught J-lingo at Ft. Snelling never truly spoke it fluently nor read/write. In fact, they had to carry around a condensed phrase handbook and point to translated phrases. The 500 kibei (my Dad was one post-war and translated at the war crimes trials in Tokyo) were the true translators having learned Japanese while spending up to 10 years of their young lives living in Japan. Unfortunately, many of these kibei were from Hiroshima and still had family living there.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. No Sir. WW-One on the whim part. The way I heard it, no one gave a whit about the archduke that got assassinated and it was somehting like somemone calls the president of France at the time and says we’re going to war, you wanna come, and he says something like Yea I guess so if you’re going we’ll go too.

      WWII, yea Hitler had to be stopped. I’ve heard some of the scheming parts also. Pearl Harbor. Normandy to appease Stalin by not going to Germany via the back door come to mind.

      I imagine things were even worse for Japanese fighters in some cases if that’s possible and the story is Japan would have fought to the last woman and child, so that’s where the saving their culture comment came from.

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    4. Kid,
      You’re conflating WW1 and WW2.
      Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated : which many say was the trigger for WW1 but it was much more complicated than that due to an almost undecipherable mish-mash of interconnected military treaties.
      WW2 and our involvement, was triggered by the Japanese -preemptive- attack on Pearl Harbor. We declared war on Japan.
      The Japanese had a military treaty with Germany, which automatically meant that we were at war with Germany.
      Think, kind of like NATO. That’s one of many reasons that many of us don’t want to slug it out with
      Russia over Ukraine.

      Liked by 1 person

    5. Thanks. I’m no expert on the details by any means. WWI was so brutal on the militaries….

      As far as Ukraine, it seems so far, we’ve only made some idiot appeasing moves by sending a small number of troops to Poland. Then again, Biden has a very aggressive opinion of himself and it wouldn’t surprise me if he pushed for our real involvement there. Sure hope not.

      I can see the point that someone made elsewhere that Russia doesn’t want a potential enemy on its border anymore than we’d accept missiles in Mexico. The story is that JFK pulled missiles from Turkey as part of a peaceful deal to get them out of Cuba. This seems to fit that kind of situation.

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  12. I wrote a white paper on WW1 and its root causes or I wouldn’t know.
    Unfortunately, I didn’t keep any paper copies and my hard drive was destroyed.
    About historical matters, Mustang is far, far more knowledgeable than I. –seriously–

    Liked by 1 person

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