First Battle of Fallujah
As part of the occupation of Iraq, the First Battle of Fallujah, codenamed Operation Vigilant Resolve, was an unsuccessful attempt by the United States Military to capture the city of Fallujah in April 2004.
The chief catalyst for the operation was the highly-publicized killing and mutilation of four Blackwater private military contractors, and the killing of 5 U.S. soldiers in Habbaniyah a few days earlier.
|First Battle of Fallujah|
|Part of the Iraq War|
|United States||Iraqi insurgency al-Qaeda in Iraq Islamic Army of Iraq|
|Commanders and leaders|
|James T. Conway||Abdullah al-Janabi Abu Musab al-Zarqawi Omar Hadid|
|2,200||3,600 (U.S. claim)|
|Casualties and losses|
|27 killed, 90+ wounded||184 insurgents killed|
|572–616 civilians killed|
Events before the battle
Fallujah had generally benefited economically under Saddam Hussein, and many residents were employed as police, military and intelligence officers by his administration. However, there was little sympathy for him following the collapse of his government, which many residents considered oppressive. The city was one of the most religious and culturally traditional areas in Iraq.
Following the collapse of the Ba’ath infrastructure in early 2003, local residents had elected a town council led by Taha Bidaywi Hamed, who kept the city from falling into the control of looters and common criminals. The town council and Hamed were both considered to be nominally pro-American, and their election originally meant that the United States had decided that the city was unlikely to become a hotbed of activity, and didn’t require any immediate troop presence. This led to the United States committing few troops to Fallujah from the start.
Although Fallujah had seen sporadic air strikes by American forces, public opposition was not galvanized until 700 members of the 82nd Airborne Division first entered the city on 23 April 2003, and approximately 150 members of Charlie Company occupied al-Qa’id primary. On 28 April, a crowd of approximately 200 people gathered outside the school past curfew, demanding that the Americans vacate the building and allow it to re-open as a school. The protesters became increasingly heated, and the deployment of smoke gas canisters failed attempt to disperse the crowd. The protest escalated as gunmen reportedly fired upon U.S. troops from the protesting crowd and U.S. Army soldiers from the 1ST Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division returned fire, killing 17 people and wounding more than 70 of the protesters. There were no Army or Coalition casualties in the incident. U.S. forces said that the shooting took place over 30–60 seconds, however other sources claim the shooting continued for half an hour
Two days later, a protest at the former Ba’ath party headquarters decrying the American shootings was also fired upon by U.S. troops, this time the U.S. 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which resulted in three more deaths. Following both incidents, the US soldiers asserted that they had not fired upon the protesters until they were fired upon first.
The 82nd Airborne troops were replaced by forces from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and 101st Airborne Division, and on 4 June the 3rd Armoured Cavalry was forced to request an additional 1,500 troops to help quell the growing resistance faced in Fallujah and nearby al-Habaniyya.
In June, U.S. forces began confiscating motorcycles from local residents, claiming that they were being used in hit-and-run attacks on US troops.
On 30 June, a large explosion occurred in a mosque in which the imam, Sheikh Laith Khalil and eight other people were killed. While the local population claimed that Americans had fired a missile at the mosque, U.S. forces claimed that it was an accidental detonation by insurgents constructing bombs.
On 12 February 2004, insurgents attacked a convoy carrying General John Abizaid,
|Born||(1951-04-01) April 1, 1951 (age 60) Redwood City, California|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1973-2007|
|Rank||General (United States)|
|Commands held||3rd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment 1st Infantry Division United States Military Academy United States Central Command|
|Battles/wars||Grenada War Persian Gulf War Bosnian War Kosovo War War in Afghanistan Iraq War|
|Awards||Defense Distinguished Service Medal (3) Army Distinguished Service Medal Defense Superior Service Medal Legion of Merit (6) Bronze Star Medal Officer of the Order of Australia Combat Infantryman Badge Master Parachutist Badge Ranger Tab Expert Infantryman Badge|
commander of US Forces in the Middle East, and the 82nd Airborne‘s Major General Charles Swannack, firing on the vehicles from nearby rooftops with RPGs, after seemingly infiltrating the Iraqi security forces.
|Charles H. Swannack Jr.|
|Major General Charles Swannack Jr. (retired)|
|Years of service||1979-2006|
|Commands held||82nd Airborne Division|
|Battles/wars||Iraq War, Panama (Operation Just Cause|
Eleven days later, insurgents diverted Iraqi police to a false emergency on the outskirts of the city, before simultaneously attacking three police stations, the mayor’s office and a civil defence base. At least 17 police officers were killed, and as many as 87 prisoners released.
During this time, the 82nd Airborne were conducting regular “lightning raids” inside the city, where Humvee convoys would destroy road barriers and curbs that could hide IEDs, and oversee searches of homes and schools, which frequently saw property damage, and led to shoot-outs with local residents.
|James Terry Conway|
|34th Commandant of the Marine Corps|
|Born||(1947-12-26) December 26, 1947 (age 64) Walnut Ridge, Arkansas|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Marine Corps|
|Years of service||1970–2010|
|Commands held||3rd Battalion 2nd Marines The Basic School 1st Marine Division I Marine Expeditionary Force Commandant of the Marine Corps|
|Battles/wars||Gulf War Iraq War *First Battle of Fallujah|
|Awards||Defense Distinguished Service Medal (3) Navy Distinguished Service Medal Legion of Merit Defense Meritorious Service Medal Legion of Honour (Commander|
By early March 2004, the city began to fall under the increasing influence of guerrilla factions. The rising violence against the American presence resulted in the complete withdrawal of troops from the city, with only occasional incursions trying to gain and reinforce a “foothold in the city” being attempted. This was coupled with one or two patrols around the outer limits of FOB( Forward Operating Base) Volturno, the former site of Qusay and Uday Hussein’s palace.
On 31 March 2004 – Iraqi insurgents in Falujjah ambushed a convoy containing four American private military contractor from Blackwater USA who were conducting delivery for food caterersESS.
The four armed contractors, Scott Helvenston,Jerko Zovko, Wesley Batalona and Michael Teague, were killed by machine gun fire and a grenade thrown through a window of their SUVs. A mob then set their bodies ablaze, and their corpses were dragged through the streets before being hung over a bridge crossing the Euphrates.
Photos of the event were released to news agencies worldwide, causing a great deal of indignation and moral outrage in the United States, and prompting the announcement of an upcoming “pacification” of the city.
The intended Marine Corps strategy of foot foot patrols, less aggressive raids, humanitarian aid, and close cooperation with local leaders was suspended on orders to mount a military operation to clear guerrillas from Fallujah.
On 1 April, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the US military in Iraq, promised an “overwhelming” response to the Blackwater deaths, stating “We will pacify that city,
|Mark T. Kimmitt|
|16th Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs|
|In office August 8, 2008 – January 20, 2009|
|President||George W. Bush|
|Preceded by||John Hillen|
|Succeeded by||Andrew J. Shapiro|
|Born||(1954-06-21) June 21, 1954 (age 57) Fort Sill, Oklahoma|
|Alma mater||United States Military Academy|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1976–2007|
|Battles/wars||Bosnian War Kosovo War Iraq War|
|Awards||Defense Superior Service Medal Legion of Merit Bronze Star NATO Medal (|
On 3 April, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force received a written command from the Joint Task Force, ordering offensive operations against Fallujah. This order went against the wishes of the Marine Commanders on the ground who wanted to conduct surgical strikes and raids against those suspected of involvement in the Blackwater deaths.
On the night of 4 April, the US forces launched a major assault in an attempt to “re-establish security in Fallujah” by encircling it with around 2000 troops. At least four homes were hit in aerial strikes, and there was sporadic gunfire throughout the night.
By the morning of 5 April, headed by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, American units had surrounded the city with an aim towards retaking it. American troops blockaded roads leading into the city with Humvees and concertina wire. They also took over a local radio station and handed out leaflets urging residents to remain inside their homes and help American forces identify insurgents and any Fallujans who were involved in the Blackwater deaths.
It was estimated that there were 12–24 separate “hardcore” groups of insurgents, armed with RPGs, machine guns, mortars and anti-aircraft weapons, some of it supplied by the Iraqi Police.By 6 April, military sources said that “Marines may not attempt to control the center of the town.”.
In the opening days, it was reported that up to a third of the civilian population had fled the city.
The resulting engagements set off widespread fighting throughout Central Iraq and along the Lower Euphrates, with various elements of the Iraqi insurgency taking advantage of the situation and commencing simultaneous operations against the Coalition forces. This period marked the emergence of the Mahdi Army, the militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, as a major armed faction which, at that time, actively participated in anti-Coalition operations. The happenings were also punctuated by a surge of a Sunni rebellion in the city of Ramadi. During this period, a number of foreigners were captured by insurgent groups. Some were killed outright, whilst others were held as hostages in an attempt to barter for political or military concessions. Some elements of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps also turned on the Coalition forces or simply abandoned their posts.
An exhausted US soldier( neveryetmelted.com)
The rebels in Fallujah held on as the Americans attempted to tighten their hold on the city. Air bombardments rained on insurgent positions throughout the city, Lockheed AC-130 gunships attacked targets with their Gatling guns and howitzers a number of times. Scout Snipers became a core element of the Marines’ strategy, averaging 31 kills apiece in the battle, while PSYOP Tactical Psychological Operations Teams from Tactical Psychological Operations Detachment 910 tried to lure Iraqis out into the open for the Scout Snipers by reading scripts that were aimed at angering insurgent fighters and by blaring ACDC along with Metallica and other rock music over their loud speakers.
After three days of fighting, it was estimated that the United States had gained control over 25% of the city, although it was suggested that insurgents had lost a number of key defensive positions.
Because the U.S. attacks were taking a toll on civilians as well as the insurgents, the Coalition faced growing criticism from within the Iraqi Geverning Council, where Adnan Pachachi said, “these operations by the Americans are unacceptable and illegal.
Al-Jazeera reporter Ahmed Mansur, and cameraman Laith Mushtaq, the only two non-embedded journalists covering the conflict since 3 April, reported that an unknown source stated that United States insisted that the reporters be withdrawn from the city, as a pre-condition to the ceasefire.
At noon on 9 April, under pressure from the Governing Council, Paul Paul Bremer announced that the U.S. forces would be unilaterally holding a ceasefire, stating that they wanted to facilitate negotiations between the Iraqi Governing Council, insurgents and city spokespersons, and to allow government supplies to be delivered to residents..
As a consequence, much-needed humanitarian relief which had been held up by the fighting and blockade finally managed to enter the city, notably a major convoy organized by private citizens, businessmen and clerics from Baghdad as a joint Shi’a-Sunni effort. Some US forces used this time to occupy and scavenge abandoned houses and convert them into de facto bunkers, while a number of insurgents did the same.
At this point, it was estimated that 600 Iraqis had been killed, at least half of whom were non-combatants. Although hundreds of insurgents had been killed in the assault, the city remained firmly in their control. U.S. forces had by then only managed to gain a foothold in the industrial district to the south of the city. The end of major operations for the time being led to negotiations between various Iraqi elements and the Coalition forces, punctuated by occasional firefights.
On 13 April, U.S. Marines fell under attack from insurgents located within a mosque. An airstrike destroyed the mosque, prompting a public outcry.
On 19 April, the ceasefire seemed to be consolidated with a plan to reintroduce joint US/Iraqi patrols in the city. Over time this arrangement broke down and the city remained a major center of opposition to the US appointed Iraqi Interim Government. Additionally, the composition of the armed groups in Fallujah changed during the following months, shifting from domination by secular, nationalist and ex-Ba’athist groups towards a marked influence of warlords with ties to organized crime and groups following a radical Wahhabi stance.
On 27 April, insurgents attacked US defensive positions, forcing Americans to call in air support.
On 1 May 2004, the United States withdrew from Fallujah, as Lieutenant General James Conway announced that he had unilaterally decided to turn over any remaining operations to the newly-formed Fallujah Brigade, which would be armed with US weapons and equipment under the command of former Ba’athist Army General Jasim Mohammed Saleh. Several days later, when it became clear that Saleh had been involved in military actions against Shi’ites under Saddam Hussein, US forces announced that Muhammed Latif would instead lead the brigade. Nevertheless, the group dissolved and had turned over all the US weapons to the insurgency by September, prompting the necessity of the Second Battle of Fallujah in November, which successfully occupied the city.
During the interim between the two battles, US forces maintained their presence at Camp Baharika, only a few miles outside the city limits.
Aftermath and effects
The largest combat mission since the declaration of the end of “major hostilities”, the Battle of Fallujah marked a turning point in public perception of the on-going conflict. This was because insurgents, rather than Saddam loyalists, were seen as the chief opponents of US forces. It was also judged by both military and civilian agencies, that reliance upon US-funded regional militias, such as the failed Fallujah Brigade, could prove disastrous. American strategists were mercurial about the outcome of the battle with one writing “the handwriting is on the wall. The Battle of Fallujah was not a defeat—but we cannot afford many more victories like it.”
The battle also pushed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi into the public spotlight as the best-known commander of anti-Coalition forces in Iraq, and brought public attention to the concept of a Sunni Triangle which might prove to be un-winnable for US forces.
27 American servicemen were killed in and around Fallujah during the battle, as well as hundreds of Iraqis, both civilians and insurgents.Many of the Iraqis killed were buried inside the city’s former football stadium, which became known as the Martyrs Cemetery.
- 1st Marine Division
- 1st Battalion 5th Marines
- 2nd Battalion 1st Marines
- 2nd Battalion 2nd Marines
- 3rd Battalion 4th Marines
- 2nd Battalion 7th Marines
- 3rd Battalion 24th Marines
- 1st Tank Battalion
- 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
- 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
- 1st Reconnaissance Battalion
- 1st Combat Engineer Battalion
- 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion
- 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion
- 21st Military Police Company (Operationally Controlled Under the 1st Marine Division)
- 1st Force Service Support Group
- 1st Infantry Division
- 5th Special Forces Group
- 10th Mountain Division
- Combat Service Support Battalion 1
- 505th Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC)
- 30th Iraqi Commando Battalion, Iraqi Special Operations Brigade
- Iraqi National Counter-Terrorism Force
The American siege of the city polarized public opinion within Iraq, and the failure of the operation to fully realise its tactical objectives would lead to a far more decisive engagement later in the year, the Second Battle of Fallujah