TCS Daily


The Challenge - and Puzzle - of Falluja

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - November 8, 2004 12:00 AM

"Never do what the enemy wishes you to do, for this reason alone, that he desires it; avoid a battlefield he has reconnoitered and studied and, with even more reason, ground that he has fortified and where he is entrenched."
-- Napoleon: Maxims of War

Recently, in a short article regarding the massacre of Iraqi national guardsmen, I noted that, because it is a sanctuary for Islamoterrorists and a symbol of their power, "Fallujah must fall."

Now U.S. forces including Marines, Army, some special units and Iraqi troops are tightening the noose around the so-called "City of Mosques." Indeed, as this article is coming up on the TCS "front page" this morning some forays into the city have already been made.

Air and artillery strikes against "strongpoints" in the city have been increasing in frequency and intensity. Press reports and television news footage often show destroyed or damaged buildings and there inevitably will be reports of what may or may not be "civilian casualties." It is difficult to assess the degree to which these strikes have actually killed fighters and vitiated the insurgents' combat capability.

In any case, Fallujah promises to be a bloody, vicious fight. One press report led with a U.S. Marine surgeon's alleged statement that the American casualty rate "probably will reach levels not seen since Vietnam."

Estimates of the size of the terrorist force inside the "ring" range from 1000 to 5000. It remains to be seen whether the Islamofascist fighters will be as suicidally dedicated as, say, the Japanese on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, but if past experience in Iraq is any indicator some portion of them will be.

And, worse, they have had time to prepare -- many months in which to anticipate where and how they will meet the "crusaders" and their "apostate" Iraqi allies. They have planted explosive booby traps and rigged car bombs. They have keyed their defense to those sites which they know Americans will be reluctant to engage -- school buildings, hospitals, and of course the city's many mosques and holy sites.

Some of these efforts will be (and in some cases have been) obviated by the work of our special units (Seals, etc.). And the proven ability of modern American weapons and surveillance technology to "shape" the battlefield may palliate to some extent the challenges of Napoleon's maxim. But Fallujah and its environs will still present some treacherous real estate for American troops.

In the April fighting in Fallujah, the insurgents showed a grasp of urban combat basics, such as the fortifying of houses or buildings that command strategic intersections of the city. They also showed no compunction about using ambulances and school buses to move fighters from strongpoint to strongpoint, or using the remaining civilians (city population: about 300,000) as shields and foils in street fighting.

Many insurgents killed in the April street battles were Fallujah "locals," young men (some probably ex-Iraqi soldiers) fired to a combative fervor by their imams but fatally ignorant of how to fight against a trained force. But there was behind them a core of veteran Arab terrorists with Al Qaeda training and good basic military skills.

What these leaders and experienced fighters will do as the assault on the city approaches, presents one of the most intriguing aspects of the "defense" of Fallujah.

The possibility cannot be discounted that any Al Qaeda "foreign legionnaires" and fighters loyal to Jordanian jihadofanatic Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may already be trickling out of Fallujah. They may melt away with the intention of reconstituting somewhere else and fighting some other day.

In fact, from the standpoint of guerrilla warfare, that would be considered the wise strategic move. One of the subtle paradoxes of effective insurgency is that the guerrillas should not concentrate forces in one place lest they become the target for one fatal blow against them.

And if the terrorists stay in Fallujah they will certainly be decimated. Car bombings and beheadings have their own terrible power but al-Zarqawi's fighters will find that street fighting with Marines has a terrible inevitability.

In "classic" guerrilla warfare, the terrorists would avoid such a circumstance by not being wedded to territory. Their headquarters would be in their pockets. They would disperse; move "among the people." They would follow the dictum of that consummate guerrilla, the Confederate John S. Mosby:

"Having no fixed lines to guard or defined territory to hold, it was always my policy to elude the enemy when they came in search of me, and carry the war into their own camps."

So, this is the puzzle of Fallujah. Has the "Islamic Republic" established there become such a symbol to the insurgents that they must now stay and defend it? And have they in fact put down such logistical and financial roots in the city that they are militarily tied there?

Or might al-Zarqawi and whoever else represents the "military" leadership stage a sort of Potemkin defense -- whipping hundreds of young Sunni men there into a fatalistic frenzy and letting them die in the streets while the more experienced fighters escape?

It is completely within the cast of the Islamoterrorist leaders' thinking to cynically decide that, since Fallujah will eventually fall, it can fall as a symbolic city of young martyrs.

A few experienced, hard-core fighters would remain to guide and goad those chosen for the slaughter. Given the nature of this kind of warfare (car and roadside bombs, suicidal snipers etc.) such a force would still be able to exact daunting casualties on U.S. and Iraqi troops. Meanwhile, the main element of the terrorist forces, the veterans, will have moved on to reconstitute itself elsewhere.

It is hoped that troops in the American cordon are ruthlessly screening and sifting all the "civilians" fleeing the area in case this conjecture is correct.

The legendary Arab insurgent leader T. E. Lawrence described the characteristics of a guerrilla force as "speed and endurance, ubiquity and independence of arteries of supply." The "ubiquity" of al-Zarqawi and his fighters - their presence as a force to be reckoned with in Iraq -- will be severely compromised or eliminated if they choose to stay and fight in Fallujah.

Let us hope that some kind of Islamic hubris has painted them into a difficult and ultimately fatal corner.

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