Last time I took you on a nostalgia tour of our first year in Fallujah, from April 2003, when we blasted 20-odd demonstrators outside the local schoolhouse to March 2004.
Today I'll bring the story up to date by tracking our last four months in F-Town -- the wildest four months since Napoleon decided he was bored with Elba and hijacked a boat for the mainland.
On March 24, 2004, the US command in Baghdad announced that the 82nd Airborne, which had been in charge of Fallujah since we got there, would be replaced with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), which was basically the 1st Marine division with attached air support. The 82nd had tried to play good cop; the Marines were going to crack some heads, convince the locals to stop messing with us.
The folks in Fallujah were just as eager for action as the Marines. One week after the Marines moved in, four "security contractors" driving through Fallujah were ambushed.
You probably remember what happened next. The four American corpses were kicked, beaten and finally hung up on a bridge. That wasn't just high spirits, that was strategy. The Fallujah insurgents wanted to get the Marines angry enough to come in blasting. The first ambush was just a way of setting up a way bigger ambush -- an old, old guerrilla tactic. Rumsfeld was on TV next day promising we'd "find and punish" the killers.
The Marines hit Fallujah hard on April 4.
It was a tough fight. The Fallujah insurgents have played it smart all the way, daring us to fight them on their own terms, in the crowded little dirty alleys they know by heart. It was a messy fight. Urban combat is just naturally gory and sloppy, and one thing this war's shown is that we're going to have to think hard about how to do it next time. War planners would rather not think about urban warfare. Their plans work much better in places like Utah or the Kuwait border: nice clean deserts.
Cities are like forests, and forest fighting is a mess. Commanders always hated it, tried to stay on open ground if they could.
Think about the Wilderness and Spotsylvania in the Civil War. Units get lost, cavalry (horse or mech) is useless, locals have a huge advantage.
In an urban war landscape, every window is a fighting position. When the Russians tried to take Grozny from the Chechen insurgents, they found out about the "vertical warfare" problem in city fighting. Most of Grozny was apartment buildings, big hulks nine or ten stories high. Advancing down the streets was like entering a canyon, where the enemy controls the high ground. Chechens on the roofs with RPGs blasted the first and last APCs, then finished off the stalled column without even working up a sweat.
The Marines were fighting well in Fallujah, but losing men for every street they advanced. And things were going even worse in the rest of Iraq. On April 6, we lost 12 Marines in a classic urban ambush in Ramadi, next door to Fallujah.
Then Bremer shut down al Sadr's newspaper -- now there was a smart move! -- and every Shiite slum in Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf turned on our troops. We were involved in urban combat on two fronts, a commander's nightmare. In two days, April 11 and 12, we lost 23 men.
The Iraqis who weren't shooting at us directly started kidnapping foreigners to take the pressure off the besieged cities. By April 12, they'd kidnapped a total of 40 foreigners: Japanese, Koreans, and even a Canadian. Imagine this liberal Canadian peacenik blogger trying to explain himself to the Jihadis who have him posing on his knees in some back room, with a big scimitar against his skinny throat: "I am NOT an American! I mean, I'm an 'American,' because like we always say, the US isn't the only 'America,' Canada is also American-" At this point they start sawing at his neck and he gets desperate, "Wait! You misunderstood! I'm Canadian! Lookit the big red maple leaf on my backpack! Listen to my accent, here: 'Get me OOT of here, Mommy!' -- you hear that 'oot'? Instead of 'out'? Aaagh!"