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Feb 27th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
New Dawn: the Battles for Fallujah

PREFACE

As goes Fallujah, so goes Anbar Province; as goes Anbar, so goes Iraq. Fallujah has long been a Sunni Wahabi tribal hotbed and vital commercial crossroad. Islamic fundamentalism was brought to Fallujah hundreds of years ago via an ancie3d plt set in atk pos_Leent trade route, linking societies in the Arabian Peninsula with the people of Iraq.  This austere, blue-collar city on the banks of the Euphrates River has been regarded as a notorious home of malcontents: even Saddam had problems controlling Fallujah’s religious zealots.

American forces easily deposed Saddam’s regime in 2003, but the fight never ended in Fallujah. The first Americans to arrive were immediately besieged and forced to hunker down in fortified outposts. The situation in Fallujah was a harbinger of events to come throughout Iraq. As in Baghdad, the enemy in Fallujah proved time and time again that America was not prepared to fight a counter-insurgent war. The United States Army simply was not trained or equipped to deal with anarchy and insurrection. A metamorphosis of mission would be needed to overcome the rising insurgency.

The American military had been restructured in the mid-80s. The Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 had changed our military structure forever. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was given operational authority over the service chiefs. He also became the principal military advisor to the President, National Security Council and Secretary of Defense. The intent was to bring all of the military services closer together and to create a “joint” force that could train, communicate and fight as one. The intent was not to homogenize our fighting forces, but to enable them to work together, bringing all the tools in the toolbox to any given campaign. However, while a modicum of jointness was achieved during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, for the most part the Army and Marine Corps operated independently for the first year of the war.

But in March 2004 the 1st Marine Division relieved the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq’s western province. The Marines’ mindset was better suited to deal with third-world chaos. Years earlier they had developed the concept of the “three-block war.”[1] The Marine Corps, in its struggle to redefine its mission after Goldwater/Nichols, worked to position itself as America’s 911 force. Marine Expeditionary Units were designed to remain afloat near potential hotspots, to be the first in. Over the years the Marines had responded to America’s security needs in Lebanon, Haiti, Grenada, Kuwait, Somalia and myriad potential hotspots. As the U.S. Military’s SWAT team, the Marines became proficient at maintaining order in third-world nations, including dealing with civilians in lawless lands. So in 2003-2004 the leadership in the Pentagon realized that the Marines were best suited to handle the chaotic situation in al Anbar Province. Therefore, after less than a year’s respite, Major General James Mattis and his 1st Marine Division returned to Iraq.

No sooner had the Marines arrived than four Blackwater security guards were attacked and brutally beaten, burned, bludgeoned and dragged through the streets of Fallujah. According to the account in Bing West’s No True Glory,[2] the Marine commanders wanted to quietly hunt down the perpetrators of the gruesome killings.  However, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld—with visions of the 1993 “Blackhawk Down” incident in Mogadishu, Somalia—were infuriated. America’s senior leadership insisted that the Marines attack to clear the entire city. So on April 4, 2004, the Marines attacked—into an insurgent hornets’ nest. After only five days, President Bush ordered a unilateral suspension of offensive operations. Al Qaeda had won the first round of the battle for Fallujah.

How? Al Qaeda had goaded American forces into a fight; then expertly manipulated the world news media, igniting a worldwide diplomatic firestorm.  Inaccurate stories and staged photos abounded of so-called Marine atrocities, convincing the world that U.S. Marines were indiscriminately killing women and children. The enemy’s propaganda was so effective that the fledgling Iraqi government insisted that the operation be suspended; the U.S.’ closest allies, the British, also demanded an immediate cessation of offensive activities.

So the Marines were ordered to stop their advance into the city and hold their positions. Even after the Marines halted, the insurgents continued to probe their lines, hoping to kill Americans and elicit another violent response. They continued to build roadblocks and prepare for the next round of fighting.

All the while, the Marines and the Iraqi Governing Council attempted to negotiate an end to the violence. By April 19, 2004, the U.S.-led coalition had reached an agreement with Fallujah’s community leaders. In an attempt to reestablish some sort of stability, the Marines agreed to patrol the city alongside Iraqi security forces. At first the city streets were calm, but violence erupted in less than twenty-four hours. Frustrated by the forced restraint, the Marines withdrew and turned over responsibility for security inside Fallujah to the newly-established “Fallujah Brigade.” This ended the first siege of Iraq’s “Wild West” stronghold.

The Fallujah Brigade had been armed and trained in the hope that its members could take back their own city. It remains debatable whether the Fallujah Brigade ever really intended to deal with the violent element within the city; its officer corps and ranks were heavily populated with former members of Saddam’s Republican Guard. Regardless of their intent, they never became an effective security force, and the Brigade disintegrated. Soon control of the city fell back into the hands of the insurgents.

While tragic, the Fallujah Brigade’s failure to maintain security was a necessary evolutionary step in the history of that war-torn city. The United States had attempted to back away and let the Iraqis bring peace and stability to their own city. The Fallujah Brigade’s failure emphasized the need for further American action and galvanized support for that action in the Iraqi national government.

But otherwise there could not have been a worse outcome to the first battle for Fallujah. The mightiest military in the world had seemingly been defeated by a ragtag band of criminal thugs; Al Qaeda proclaimed its victory over the infidel. The Marines had been unable to quickly penetrate the insurgents’ maze of roadblocks and IED-laced streets.  They didn’t have the heavy assets they needed to punch through those fortifications without flattening the city with bombs and artillery.

Additionally, the Marines dashed their chances of winning the hearts and minds of the people; Al Qaeda won that battle, too. The insurgents used their victory in Fallujah to recruit fresh fighters from the local inhabitants and to attract jihadists from all over the world. The call went out: “Come to Fallujah, kill Americans, and defeat the Zionists.” The city was left isolated, with nearly 100% unemployment. All of Fallujah’s military-aged men had nothing better to do than fight the Americans who had brought chaos and destruction to their city.

By the end of April, the Marines had withdrawn to the edge of the city. General Mattis’ only hope was to contain the burgeoning insurgency within the city limits. Fallujah once again became a base of operations and a safe haven for the enemy, and an American no-man’s-land. General Mattis was continually restrained throughout the summer of 2004, as the Coalition leadership tried to get the Iraqis to help solve the problem. Given the opportunity, Mattis would have moved to clear Fallujah, but it was not meant to be. The job of defeating the enemy in Fallujah would fall to the 1st Marine Division’s next commanding general. Major General Richard F. Natonski, a longtime advocate of joint operations, assumed command in August of 2004, and planning was started for the largest joint operation of the war: Operation Phantom Fury.

The Marines had learned much since their arrival in March. They would not be turned back a second time.

Ask your local bookstore manager if they will be carrying New Dawn.


[1]General Charles Krulak, the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps from July 1, 1995 to June 30, 1999, defined the Marines’ mission as being able to fight a “three-block war.” This included simultaneous all-out combat operations on one block, clearing operations on the next block, and humanitarian operations on the third block.

[2]Bing West, No True Glory.

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Feb 23rd, 2010 by Richard Lowry
New Dawn

new_dawn_girlSecretary of Defense Robert Gates recently announced that the United States military would officially complete Operation Iraqi Freedom on September 1, 2010 and American Forces would commence a new operation in Iraq—New Dawn. Many in the media have criticized the selection of the new name, saying that there has previously been a bloody Operation New Dawn in Fallujah, back in 2004. In actuality, there has never been an American operation called New Dawn.

As the November, 2004 operation to clear Fallujah of thousands of Anti-Iraqi-Forces neared (Phantom Fury), the Iraqi government assumed responsibility for what was about to transpire, and code-named the operation al Fajr, after a passage in the Qur’an. The loose English translation is “The Dawn” or “Daybreak.” The religious passage talks about wrongdoers returning to the grace of Allah. It speaks of an approaching New Dawn. While the official Iraqi designation was al Fajr, the American code name was Phantom Fury or al Fajr—never New Dawn.

My next book, New Dawn, tells the story of Operation al Fajr. I could have just as easily titled the story The Dawn, but I took literary license and selected what I believed to be a catchier title in New Dawn. I sincerely hope that my bastardization of the translation has not added to the confusion and I pray that 2011 brings a new dawn of peace and prosperity to the people of Iraq.

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Feb 16th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
The real fight in Helmand – Tom Clancy couldn’t have done it better

In a scene straight from a Tom Clancy movie, Afghan international forces chased down several Taliban fighters as they attempted to escape the Allied onslaught. Here is an official press release I recieved this morning. Operation Moshtarak is no tangled urban fight like Fallujah, it is an open-spaces hunt for the bad guys:

Marines in Helmand

Marines in Helmand

2010-02-CA-076
For Immediate Release

IJC Operational Update Feb. 16

KABUL, Afghanistan (Feb. 16) – An Afghan-international force
interdicted three vehicles in three separate engagements, resulting in
more than 10 militants killed while pursuing a Taliban commander in
Helmand province yesterday.
The joint force was sent to a rural area in the Washir district
after intelligence information revealed militants were in several
vehicles.
One of the vehicles drove away and attempted to elude the
assault force.  As the combined force attempted to stop it, weapons were
pointed at the coalition force through the open car windows. The
coalition force engaged and killed the militants who were in the car.
After the fire fight the ammunition inside the vehicle continued to
detonate, causing the assault force to pull back to a safe distance.
Another associated vehicle, with one occupant, drove out of the
village, with the coalition force in pursuit.  The car stopped and the
occupant drew an automatic rifle and attempted to fire on the force who
then killed the militant.
A third vehicle was located, and armed militants got out of both
sides of the vehicle and attempted to engage the pursuing force.  The
joint force returned fire killing several militants.
As the assault force engaged the third car it received machine
gun and rocket propelled grenade fire from the nearby village.  As the
fire fight continued militants from the village tried to approach the
burning vehicle several times, but were driven off as explosives and
ammunition inside the vehicle continued to detonate.
To reduce the possibility of civilian casualties in the village
the combined force then broke off the fight and returned to base.

-30-

V/R

SFC(OR-7) Kevin P Bell
IJC Public Affairs Office
Media Operations NCO

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Feb 13th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Vertical envelopment – leapfrogging into Marjah

AfghanistanMore than 10,000 Afghan, British and American soldiers, along with United States Marines attacked into Afghanistan’s poppy-growing heartland in the predawn darkness Saturday morning.

Third Battalion, 6th Marines leapt into combat, hopping over the maze of canals and minefields in 60 helicopters of  Marine Air Group 40 and Task Force Pegasus, the Combat Aviation Brigade of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. The Marines were on the outskirts of Marjah’s bazaar before enemy fighters could get their pants on.

Major General Nick Carter, NATO commander for Southern Afghanistan said this about the initial assault in an interview early on Saturday: “The amount of aviation that was used and the way it was used, the number of objectives, and the extent to which the enemy was dislocated in terms of that overwhelming arrival between 2AM and dawn this morning was impressive, to say the least.”

More Marines and soldiers advanced on the ground closing the vice on the enemy. The advance on the ground was slow through heavily mined poppy fields. The danger to our men will not be from enemy counterattacks. The danger in this operation will come from hidden IEDs and home-made bombs.

On the eve of the attack, Taliban leaders, knowing that their options were slowly being eliminated, issued orders for civilians to remain in Marjah. Many families defied these orders, hopped in cars and trucks when the Taliban commanders were not watching and fled.

“We were not allowed to come here. We haven’t brought any of our belongings; we just tried to get ourselves out,” said Bibi Gul, an elderly woman who arrived in nearby Lashkar Gah with three of her sons along with hundreds of other fleeing civilians. The Afghan government is prepared to shelter 7,000 families in nearby towns.

With their hostages gone and Marines on the horizon, most of the Taliban will attempt to slip away to fight another day. They will scatter to the winds and hope that their hidden explosives will inflict many allied casualties. These cowards will run.

And, with every Taliban coward that flees the fight, the level of violence will be decreased; thus reducing the chance of civilian casualties. General McChrystal is brilliant. If the enemy stands and fights – he will surely die. If he runs, he will lose his source of income and control over the people of Helmand.

The kinetic portion of Operation Moshtarak will be violent and fast. The Taliban will be quickly ejected from Central Helmand. But, Operation Moshtarak will last quite some time. Provisional Reconstruction teams, the Afghan National Army and Afghan Police will saturate the area with the sole intent of improving the lives of the people of Helmand. And, they will stay. The Taliban will not be allowed to return.

Much like a cancer patient, surgery is often traumatic and dangerous, but months of chemo-therapy are necessary to completely remove the malignancy. In the coming months, the Afghan government, NATO and the United States will work tirelessly to improve the lives of the people of this agricultural area. If they are successful, the Taliban will become irrelevant.

Without a population to support their cause, they will be defeated.

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Feb 9th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Preparations for Operation Moshtarak continue

There has been much talk about the coming fight in Helmand Province. Many have likened it to the second battle of Fallujah.  Many others are claiming that the civilian population is fleeing the area. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fallujah was the largest urban battle for US Marines since Hue City, Vietnam. This fight will be a rural battle, with Marines slogging through mud and open fields and the Marines are asking the people to stay in their homes, out of the line of fire. Here is an official PRESS RELEASE that I just received which talks about the status of the local population in Central Helmand Province and how the Marines are dealing with them:

Photo by - Lance Cpl. James W. Clark

Photo by - Lance Cpl. James W. Clark

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Feb. 9) – In anticipation of
operations in central Helmand, a variety of organizations and
individuals, including combined force commanders, have been paying close
attention to civilian movements. Commanders in the area are reporting no
significant increase in persons moving out of Nad-e Ali district in the
last month.

Despite reports of large numbers of civilians fleeing the area,
the facts on the ground do not support these assertions.
Current estimates are that fewer than 200 families have left
Nad-e Ali since Operation Moshtarak was announced. Combined force
commanders are encouraging civilians to remain in the safety of their
homes. Every effort is being made to ensure minimum disruption to the
residents during the operation.

The goal of Moshtarak – a Dari word for “together” – is for the
combined force (ANA, ANP, ISAF and the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction
Team) to support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
in asserting its authority in central Helmand, thereby demonstrating the
Afghan government’s commitment to the people living there.

The operation is being conducted in line with the wishes of the
Afghan government in Helmand. The security forces involved are serving
side-by-side, representing partnership in strength.

MSgt. Jeff Loftin
IJC PAO Press NCO

Visit www.fallujahbook.com to leran more about the battle for fallujah.

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Feb 4th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
The Afghan surge intensifies

The United States Marines in Helmand Province have openly announced their plans to attack the last remaining southern Helmand Taliban stronghold in Marjah.

Charlie Company Marine

Charlie Company Marine

Marjah is a tiny speck on only one of the maps I have checked. It lies in an agricultural region filled with farmer’s plots and interlaced with irrigation canals. The Marjah area is more like the rural areas of the Zaidon (south of Camp Fallujah) than the urban environment inside Fallujah.

A sweep through this area will require a massive amount of troops, as the countryside is littered with thousands of buildings, nestled in small clumps for 5 or 6 to dozens. The irrigation canals will make movement difficult and the Marines will be under constant threat of ambush. Clearing this area will take quite some time. This operation will most likely last into the spring.

The allies have lacked the numbers to secure the last Taliban stronghold in southern Helmand – until now.  Afghan forces, supported by 15,000 Marines and more British and American soldiers, will soon move to eject the Taliban from Marjah and the surrounding countryside.

I have recently seen reports that the Afghan Army training is not going well and that there is a high desertion rate. This operation will be the Afghan Army’s baptism of fire, much like Operation Phantom Fury was for the Iraqi Army. With the Marines with them, the Afghan’s will get their first major success under their belt, giving them a huge psychological boost.

I will be providing more details as they come in. When you hear the first report of the fight in the Main Stream Media, come back to my blog for the behind-the-scenes stories.

Visit www.fallujahbook.com and reserve an autographed copy of my next book New Dawn. You can also leave me a message through my website.

Click here for more background on the Marines in Helmand.

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