Iraq War: Second Battle of Fallujah

US Army
US soldiers prepare to enter and clear a building during fighting in Fallujah, Iraq. US Army

The Second Battle of Fallujah was fought November 7 to 16, 2004, during the Iraq War (2003-2011). Lieutenant General John F. Sattler and Major General Richard F. Natonski led 15,000 American and Coalition troops against approximately 5,000 insurgent fighters led by Abdullah al-Janabi and Omar Hussein Hadid.

Background

Following escalating insurgent activity and Operation Vigilant Resolve (First Battle of Fallujah) in the spring of 2004, U.S.-led Coalition Forces turned fighting in Fallujah over to the Iraqi Fallujah Brigade. Led by Muhammed Latif, a former Baathist general, this unit ultimately collapsed, leaving the city in the hands of the insurgents. This, along with the belief that insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was operating in Fallujah, led to the planning of Operation Al-Fajr (Dawn)/Phantom Fury with the goal of retaking the city. It was believed that between 4,000–5,000 insurgents were in Fallujah.

The Plan

Located approximately 40 miles west of Baghdad, Fallujah was effectively surrounded by U.S. forces by October 14. Establishing checkpoints, they sought to ensure that no insurgents were able to escape the city. Civilians were encouraged to leave to prevent being caught in the coming battle, and an estimated 70–90 percent of the city's 300,000 citizens departed.

During this time, it was clear that an assault on the city was imminent. In response, the insurgents prepared a variety of defenses and strong points. The attack on the city was assigned to the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF).

With the city cordoned off, efforts were made to suggest that the Coalition attack would come from the south and southeast as had occurred in April. Instead, I MEF intended to assault the city from the north across its entire breadth. On November 6, Regimental Combat Team 1, consisting of the 3rd Battalion/1st Marines, 3rd Battalion/5th Marines, and the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion/7th Cavalry, moved into position to assault the western half of Fallujah from the north.

They were joined by Regimental Combat Team 7, made up of the 1st Battalion/8th Marines, 1st Battalion/3rd Marines, the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion/2nd Infantry, the 2nd Battalion/12th Cavalry, and 1st Battalion 6th Field Artillery, which would attack the eastern part of the city. These units were joined by about 2,000 Iraqi troops as well. 

The Battle Begins

With Fallujah sealed, operations began at 7:00 p.m. on November 7, when Task Force Wolfpack moved to take objectives on the west bank of the Euphrates River opposite Fallujah. While Iraqi commandos captured Fallujah General Hospital, Marines secured the two bridges over the river to cut off any enemy retreat from the city.

A similar blocking mission was undertaken by the British Black Watch Regiment south and east of Fallujah. The next evening, RCT-1 and RCT-7, backed by air and artillery strikes, commenced their attack into the city. Using Army armor to disrupt the insurgent's defenses, the Marines were able to effectively attack enemy positions, including the main train station. Though engaged in fierce urban combat, Coalition troops were able to reach Highway 10, which bisected the city, by the evening of November 9. The eastern end of the road was secured the next day, opening a direct supply line to Baghdad.

Insurgents Cleared

Despite heavy fighting, Coalition forces controlled approximately 70 percent of Fallujah by the end of November 10. Pressing across Highway 10, RCT-1 moved through the Resala, Nazal, and Jebail neighborhoods, while the RCT-7 assaulted an industrial area in the southeast. By November 13, U.S. officials claimed that most of the city was under Coalition control. The heavy fighting continued for the next several days as Coalition forces moved house-to-house eliminating insurgent resistance. During this process, thousands of weapons were found stored in houses, mosques, and tunnels connecting buildings around the city.

The process of clearing the city was slowed by booby-traps and improvised explosive devices. As a result, in most cases, soldiers only entered buildings after tanks had rammed a hole in a wall or specialists had blasted a door open. On November 16, U.S. officials announced that Fallujah had been cleared, but that there were still sporadic episodes of insurgent activity.

Aftermath

During the Battle of Fallujah, 51 U.S. forces were killed and 425 seriously wounded, while Iraqi forces lost 8 soldiers with 43 wounded. Insurgent losses are estimated at between 1,200 to 1,350 killed. Though Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi was not captured during the operation, the victory severely damaged the momentum the insurgency had gained before Coalition forces held the city. Residents were allowed to return in December, and they slowly began rebuilding the badly damaged city.

Having suffered terribly in Fallujah, the insurgents began to avoid open battles, and the number of attacks again began to rise. By 2006, they controlled much of Al-Anbar province, necessitating another sweep through Fallujah in September, which lasted until January 2007. In the fall of 2007, the city was turned over to the Iraqi Provincial Authority.