Operation AL FAJR

By John F. Sattler & Daniel H. Wilson - Originally Published July 2005

Dousing the bright ember of the insurgency.

Operation AL FAJR represented a major success for the Iraqi Government and coalition forces. The November 2004 assault and subsequent reconstruction efforts have turned Fallujah from an insurgent base of operations into the cornerstone of progress in the Al Anbar Province. Success in Operation AL FAJR resulted from prebattle shaping (information operations, feints, and precision airstrikes), the contribution of Iraqi and joint forces, and the indomitable fighting spirit of the coalition forces.

Background

The first battle of Fallujah (Operation VIGILANT RESOLVE) was fought from 5 to 30 April 2004, and ended with an agreement to cede the security responsibilities within the city to the hastily formed Fallujah Brigade. The agreement included provisions for the surrender of heavy weapons by insurgents and stipulated that the Fallujah Brigade would initiate investigations to identify the murderers and mutilators of the four American citizens (Blackwater employees) killed on 31 March. There was a feeble attempt by the Fallujah Brigade to collect and turn over weapons and ammunition to our forces that netted a few small pickup trucks' worth of rusty, inoperable rifles, mortar tubes, and mortar rounds. The insurgent and terrorist factions in Fallujah used their sanctuary to turn the "City of Mosques" (officially 72) into a way station for exporting their acts of terror to all parts of Iraq. Foreign fighters, weapons, ammunition, equipment, and money were all brought into the insurgent safe haven and facilitated their activities against coalition forces and the people of Iraq.

Our planners immediately resumed planning for combat operations in Fallujah. All felt it was not a matter of "if but just a matter of "when" those operations would commence. The situation in Fallujah continued to deteriorate through the summer months (2004) and into the fall. A slow drain of the city's estimated 250,000 residents occurred as the insurgents and terrorists expanded their grip over the populace through intimidation, brutality, and murder. The effectiveness of the Fallujah Brigade quickly waned as various insurgent and terrorist groups vied for greater control in the city. While some viewed the Fallujah Brigade as a failed experiment, it actually provided an insight into the insurgency that was previously nonexistent. The Fallujah Brigade was an Iraqi solution to the Fallujah problem, and when it failed to maintain the peace, the blame could no longer be pinned on the coalition forces. In fact, the failure of the Fallujah Brigade provided the coalition forces with opportunities for the psychological operations (PsyOp) campaign that was effective in driving a wedge between competing factions and the residents of Fallujah. For example, it was pointed out in PsyOp products that the lack of stability in Fallujah, caused by factional infighting, denied the residents the benefit of $30 million waiting to be invested in community improvement projects. Equally significant, the Fallujah Brigade experiment demonstrated that the insurgency was factionalized, and therein was its real weakness. Without the presence of coalition forces to galvanize cooperation, the factions would fight each other for dominance.

The Threat

The threat in Iraq comes from a variety of insurgent, terrorist, tribal, extremist, and criminal networks-each with its own agenda. Foreign fighters are mixed in with these networks, with the primary foreign threat represented by Abu Musab alZarqawi and his al-Qaeda terrorist network. While there is no single unifying leader of the insurgency, these various groups cooperate with each other in a loose alliance when it is convenient to do so.

The predominant insurgent and terrorist leaders in Fallujah were Sheik Abdullah Janabi, Omar Hadid and, of course, al-Zarqawi. These three thugs were the real power brokers in the city and collaborated when it suited their purposes. In early August, when LtCol Suleiman, Commander, 506th Iraqi National Guard (ING) Battalion, confronted Hadid about the abduction of his intelligence officer, he himself was abducted and beaten to death. Residents understood that the real message behind this brutal murder was that Omar Hadid was a force to be reckoned with in Fallujah. Reporting suggested that he had as many as 1,500 fighters loyal to him. Inside sources also reported that Sheik Janabi was complicit in the murder of LtCoI Suleiman and had even presided over a Sharia court that found the commander guilty of treason through his association with coalition forces. This incident was a red flag to the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) and the Interim Iraqi Government (UG). It signaled the complete loss of any legitimate provision of security to the residents of Fallujah. Coupled with the theft of weapons, vehicles, and equipment from the compounds of the 505th and 506th ING Battalions, it became clear that Fallujah needed to be liberated from the mugs, thugs, and intimidators. The IIG put out a decree disbanding the 505th and 506th ING Battalions. The ING battalions had become ineffective, and many of their members were themselves involved in insurgent activities. Fallujah had become the bright ember in the ash pit of the insurgency, and the HG knew it must be eliminated.

The threat assessment of Fallujah in September and October 2004 revealed that the insurgents were fully expecting an attack by coalition forces. Three hundred and six well-constructed defensive positions were identified, many of which were interlaced with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The orientation of the bulk of their defenses indicated that they expected an attack into the southeast sector of the city, leading the planners to recommend an attack from north to south. Intelligence also identified 33 of 72 mosques in Fallujah being used by insurgents to conduct meetings, store weapons and ammunition, interrogate and torture kidnap victims, and conduct illegal Sharia court sessions. In our experience, the insurgents and terrorists justify their actions as jihad (holy war) when it is convenient, and in order to appeal to a broader Muslim audience, but their actual actions and motives are in stark contrast to the religious tenets of Islam.

Operations Planning

Planning for combat operations in Fallujah continued during September and October. Intelligence improved as captured insurgents turned on their "brothers." The results of precision targeting of insurgent safe houses began to have their desired effect. Insurgent factions were turning on one another, as each suspected the other of providing us with intelligence. It seemed to them that our intelligence was too good for it not to have come from inside sources, and in some instances it did. Through various means that idea was perpetuated and encouraged, which increased the internecine strife among insurgent groups. We estimated that there were approximately 5,600 insurgent fighters operating in the Fallujah-Ramadi corridor at that time, with 4,500 in the city of Fallujah, including foreign fighters and terrorists. It is more probable that there were actually closer to 3,000 in Fallujah at the time, and this proved to be quite close to the number actually captured or killed during the major kinetic phase of operations.

The MEF plan called for five phases. Initially, it was named Operation PHANTOM FURY, but then was appropriately renamed by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi as Operation AL FAJR (New Dawn). We knew it would be important to include the Iraqi security Forces (ISF) in the battle and have the decision to conduct the operation made by none other than the Prime Minister himself. Previously, during the April battle of Fallujah, only the 36th Iraqi Commando Battalion had joined us for the fight, with the remainder of assigned Iraqi forces refusing to deploy. During August two Iraqi Intervention Force (IIF) battalions had fought side-by-side with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (11th MEU) in Najaf, reinforced by two U.S. Army battalions, to crush Muqtada alSadr's Mahdi Militia around the Imam Ali and Kufa Mosques. These same two IIF battalions, along with six other ISF battalions, joined the I MEF for Operation AL FAJR. The ISF had come a long way by November in their training and willingness to fight.

Phase I of Operation AL FAJR was preparation and shaping. The primary activities during this phase were moving the forces into position, building the iron mountain (prestaged supplies, ammunition, and fuel), collecting intelligence, planning, and shaping the battlefield by various means, both kinetic and nonkinetic. This shaping was steady and precise for 2 months prior to Operation AL FAJR. Special operations forces (SOF) provided specific intelligence-based targeting information. These targets were struck with a variety of Marine Corps, coalition, and SOF assets. Marine battalions manning vehicle checkpoints (VCPs) or participating in feints were extremely successful in targeting fixed enemy defenses and degrading insurgent command and control (C^sup 2^) capabilities. A series of feints conducted by 1st Marine Division (1st MarDiv) deceived the insurgents as to the time and location of our main attack. They knew we were coming, but they didn't know when or from where. The feints also allowed us to develop actionable intelligence on their positions for targeting in Phase II. The Commanding Officer, 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, whose Marines manned the southern VCPs around Fallujah, described this period as a real-world fire support coordination exercise that provided a valuable opportunity for his fire support coordinator and company fire support teams to work tactics, techniques, and procedures and to practice coordinating surface and air-delivered fires.

Building the iron mountain was a concept derived from a lesson learned during April 2004 in the first battle of Fallujah. Our supply lines were heavily targeted at that time by the insurgents. A disruption of the supply lines was one of our worstcase planning assumptions, and building the iron mountain mitigated this risk. The just-in-time logistics concept was not practical in this situation. Quantity has a quality of its own, and the iron mountain was a textbook example of that maxim. Guidance for Operation AL FAJR was to have a 15-day excess amount of supplies, foodstuffs, ammunition, and fuel aboard each forward operating base prior to commencement of combat operations. The iron mountain also minimized the need for any routine resupply convoys to travel the dangerous routes. 1st Force Service Support Group (1st FSSG) was the main effort during this phase, and they literally moved mountains of supplies, equipment, and ammunition to build the iron mountain. Their exceptional aroundthe-clock efforts set the conditions for success during subsequent phases of the operation.

A monumental task of Phase I was the buildup of Camp Fallujah by the Marines and Sailors of the I MEF Headquarters Group (MHG) as the central hub for C2, logistics, and medical services. Camp Fallujah experienced an overnight surge as units poured in for Operation AL FAJR. Camp facilities felt the strain as they fought to accommodate nearly 2Vg times the camp's normal capacity. The Seabees of the MEF Engineering Group (MEG) rose above and beyond the call of duty to build the East Fallujah Iraqi Camp (EFIC) after the contractor failed to fulfill his contractual obligations. The MEG built the EFIC in mere days to accommodate the ISF battalions that were arriving. A temporary joint mortuary affairs (MA) facility at Camp Fallujah was opened to provide excess capacity for casualties. This detachment was later moved to the potato factory just outside Fallujah to provide MA support for the insurgent dead.

Information operations in close concert with combat operations during Phase I encouraged Fallujah's residents to leave the city. A "whisper campaign," PsyOp, and multiple feints convinced the overwhelming majority of the citizens to depart Fallujah, while disguising when and where the assault would occur. Estimates are that there were less than 500 civilians remaining in the city when Phase HI combat operations commenced. These efforts were instrumental in ensuring that few civilians were injured in combat operations. The information campaign was very effective and as important to this operation as the actual combat offensive to liberate the city. We stole the strategic communications initiative from the enemy and never gave it back.

We were keenly aware of the strategic necessity to get ahead of the bow wave of publicity regularly associated with these types of combat actions. The influx of embeds from a variety of media outlets was welcomed with open arms. We were confident they would get the truth out if they were embedded with our forces. There were 91 embeds, representing 60 media outlets, at the peak of Operation AL FAJR. Their only restriction was not releasing operational information that would jeopardize lives. Anytime a significant target was struck, the public affairs section was ready with a straightforward, accurate, and timely press release. This guiding principle prevented us from being in the reactive mode of countering insurgent propaganda.

Joint and Combined Operations

Operation AL FAJR was joint and coalition warfare at its finest. (see Figure 1.) The best capability set was quickly assembled from throughout Iraq and massed for the battle. The flexibility of this force was later demonstrated shortly after offensive operations were underway, when the Stryker battalion (equipped with light armored wheeled vehicles-similar to the Marine light armored vehicle) was pulled in the midst of battle to return to its home area of Mosul in order to quell the insurgency there. The Army's Black Jack Brigade (2d Brigade Combat Team (2d BCT), 1st Calvary Division) arrived from Baghdad just days before the fight. A look at the task organization of the Black Jack Brigade is a revelation of the joint integration that existed for this battle. An Army troop of tanks and Bradley's was under the tactical control (TaCon) of 2d Marine Reconnaissance Battalion, which in turn was TaCon to the Black Jack Brigade, which in turn was TaCon to 1st MarDiv. Other Army battalions arrived diat had participated in combat operations in Najaf during August. The heavy armor shock and firepower they brought to the fight was invaluable, and two of these task forces became the main penetration elements for our regimental combat teams (RCTs) in the attack. Joint special operations sniper teams (three teams of six) were integrated with the assault regiments. They performed superbly in the battle as a combat multiplier and were credited with numerous confirmed kills. All in all, the attack force included nine U.S. Army and Marine battalions, six Iraqi battalions, and attack aviation from all of the Military Services, to include naval air flying off an aircraft carrier. The full assault force included some 12,000 Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and ISF. The keys to successful integration of this joint and coalition force were complementary warfighting capabilities, a single chain of command, advances in technology, and the unifying vision of liberating a city from the oppressive grip of the insurgents and terrorists. Rehearsals of the concept and confirmation briefs solidified the plan in the minds of the combatants. You could feel the energy among the coalition forces-it was a contagious, confident enthusiasm.

Other MEF units provided forces and supporting missions critical to the success of Operation AL FAJR. 11th MEU in the Najaf Province contributed a rifle company, sniper teams, an engineer platoon, explosive ordnance disposal teams, tanks, assault amphibious vehicles, air/naval gunfire liaison company teams, and additional linguists in direct support of combat forces involved in the fight. They also ensured the peace and stability in the Najaf Province during Operation AL FAJR, allowing the MEF to concentrate additional combat power for the battle. 31st MEU, U.S. Central Command's strategic reserve, was deployed to the Al Anbar Province just prior to Operation AL FAJR. They took command of the western area of the province from RCT-7. 31st MEU's presence freed up RCT-7's command post to participate in combat operations. The 31st MEU chopped their battalion landing team (Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 3d Marines) TaCon to RCT-7 for the FaIlujah fight. 31st MEU conducted supporting operations that prevented foreign fighters, weapons, and financing from crossing the borders and points of entry (POEs) into Iraq. They enforced the IIG's complete closure of the Syrian POEs to military-aged males, preventing the insurgency from receiving foreign recruits for their cause. 24th MEU, operating in the northern portion of the Babil Province, kept a lid on the insurgency in their area. The British Black Watch Battalion deployed from southeastern Iraq in support of 24th MEU, and their combined force sealed off the escape routes of insurgents down through the Euphrates River corridor into Babil. 2d BCT, 2d Infantry Division (from Korea) conducted dozens of supporting operations in the Fallujah-Ramadi corridor throughout Operation AL FAJR that disrupted insurgent activity to the north and west of Fallujah proper. The addition of units to the regular I MEF structure expanded our numbers from a pre-AL FAJR 32,000 to 45,000 during the operation. The temporary augmentation was needed for full focus of combat power, without any loss of capability in the rest of the MEF's area of operations. Everyone arrived ready for action, and the noteworthy performance by all of the organic and joined units guaranteed the success of Operation AL FAJR.

The final act of Phase I was the isolation of Fallujah through blocking positions established by the Black Jack Brigade. They were also responsible for security of the routes leading to Fallujah, coinciding with an IIG ban on vehicular traffic in and around the city. The IIG closed the border POEs from Syria into Iraq, which cut back significantly on the smuggling of foreign fighters, weapons, and financial support to the insurgency. A portion of the insurgent and terrorist leadership, in spite of public proclamations to fight to the death, had cowardly slipped out of the city with the civilian exodus. The insurgents still in the city were isolated with few options remaining-escape, surrender, or die.

Phase II, enhanced shaping, began on 7 November at 1900 local time-D-day and H-hour respectively. This was an intense 12- to 24-hour period of electronic, aviation, and indirect fire attacks against the insurgents' C2 nodes and defensive positions. All fires were delivered against precise targets. The fury of the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing (3d MAW) and all of the joint aircraft in support was unleashed. Artillery and mortar rounds added to the fires descending on enemy targets. The synchronization of fires into this confined urban area (5 kilometers by 5 kilometers) was facilitated by the establishment of a high-density airspace control zone (HIDACZ). The HIDACZ and fire support coordination measures, such as the coordinated fire line, allowed for the simultaneous employment of fixed- and rotary-wing fires in concert with ground direct and indirect fires, unmanned aerial vehicles, and AC-130 gunships. AC-130 aircraft in support of Operation AL FAJR were devastatingly effective in destroying targets with their accurate weapons systems. The Coalition Force Air Component Commander's air support operations center and the MEF's direct air support center synchronized and deconflicted the intricate movements of aircraft and indirect fires in and around the HIDACZ.

A ground attack was conducted up the peninsula to the west of Fallujah during this phase by Task Force LAR (light armored reconnaissance battalion (TF LAR)) to set the final conditions for Phase III, which included Marines of 3d LAR; a company from 1st Battalion, 23d Marines; a company of Soldiers from the 1-503d Infantry Battalion, 2d BCT; and the Soldiers of the 36th Iraqi Commando Battalion. This attack was conducted as the final operation of Phase II to complete the isolation of Fallujah proper from the west, while the Black Jack Brigade isolated the city from the east and south. The hospital at the northern tip of the peninsula was also to be seized, as it had been used by the insurgents as a C^sup 2^ center and weapons storage facility.

The attack up the peninsula proceeded according to plan and accomplished its intended purpose. The 36th Iraqi Commando Battalion quickly seized the hospital from a small group of insurgents that included some foreign fighters. The bridges allowing access to western Fallujah were secured by TF LAR who encountered sporadic small arms fire and suffered some wounded from IEDs that were placed on the roads leading to the bridges. The insurgents mistook D-day for the actual attack, and cell leaders were on the speaker systems in Fallujah's mosques calling their fighters to pick up weapons and report to designated locations. This tactical deception was a useful diversion for the real blow to come from the north 24 hours later. It also kept the insurgents in an alert status for a full day, sapping their physical and mental energies for the real fight to come. Phase II was a crucial part of properly setting the stage for the main attack. The precision attacks degraded the insurgents' ability to C^sup 2^ their fighters and destroyed many of the hazards that would have impeded our forces' attack into the city.

Hammer Blows

The twin hammers of Operation AL FAJR were RCT-1 and RCT-7. They rolled out of their various staging areas through the night of 7 November and during the day of 8 November (A-day for attack day). This was a sequenced movement of forces that first staged RCT-7 in position by daylight in the event that an early supporting attack was required to keep the insurgents off balance, or in the event that indirect fires made their attack positions untenable. The main effort, RCT-1, moved into position near simultaneously, but slightly behind RCT-7. RCT-1 completed its movement into its final attack positions just prior to the hour of attack (A-hour, 1900 local time). They literally moved into their attack positions and rolled onward into the attack. Each RCT had a penetration force consisting of an armor-heavy battalion TF from the Army. TF 2-7 (2d Cavalry Squadron, 7th Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division) led the way for RCT-1, with TF 2-2 (2d Battalion, 2d Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division) advancing in zone for RCT-7. These penetrating forces were critical to quickly slicing through the insurgents' defenses and disrupting their ability to conduct coordinated counterattacks. The firepower and armor protection these battalions brought to the fight added significantly to the capability set of the assault force. Marine and ISF battalions conducted supporting attacks and moved closely behind the penetration forces to conduct follow-on search and attack missions. The fighting was intense, close, and personal, the likes of which has been experienced on just a few occasions since the battle of Hue City in the Vietnam War. We attacked at night to take advantage of our superior night-fighting capability.

The assault force dominated the urban battle from the start. The Army penetration did what it was designed to do and fractured the enemy's ability to execute a cohesive defense. The young Marines, Soldiers, and Iraqi Soldiers expanded and cleared the wedge of remaining insurgent groups. Wherever the insurgents stood to fight, they died. In spite of their prebattle braggadocio, they were no match for our combined and joint force. Many fought fiercely but were never able to overcome our troops' advantage in leadership, training, and morale. The smart insurgents quickly went into survival mode. They scurried from building to building trying to avoid our forces until they had a window of opportunity to make a suicidal defense that would produce the greatest amount of casualties among our forces. In some cases they built spider holes in the floors of houses and buildings to use as ambush positions from which to attack our clearing forces as they entered the structures. In other instances, they built "panic rooms" in the interior of structures, complete with light discipline, where they waited for an opportune moment to attack. The insurgency rapidly dissolved into small groups that moved between houses using tunnels, ladders across rooftops, and holes that they had knocked out of exterior walls. Oftentimes they would double back into an area already "cleared" by our forces and wait for their chance to make a last-ditch suicidal stand.

In our prebattle planning we had anticipated reaching the center of town within 72 to 96 hours. In reality the battle progressed at a faster tempo than our best planning assumptions, with elements of RCT-7 crossing the road (Main Supply Route (MSR) Michigan/Phase Line (PL) Fran) that runs from east to west through the center of Fallujah in just 14 hours. The main effort (RCT-1) encountered some of the insurgents' toughest defensive positions in the Jolan District but still managed to fight to PL Fran within 43 hours of the commencement of the attack. The end of 10 November 2004-the Marine Corps' 229th Birthday-saw both RCT-1 and RCT-7 in control of MSR Michigan, having secured all initial 1st MarDiv objectives. Controlling MSR Michigan was a key tactical victory because it opened up a shorter resupply route from Camp Fallujah-3 miles to the southeast. The 1st MarDiv's original plan at this point of the battle was for RCT-7 to reorient, drive to the west, and become the main effort. However, RCT-1 was doing so well in driving from north to south, and resistance had been heavier in the northeastern quadrant of the city, that an audible was called to execute a branch plan instead. We deemed that the time delay to move and reorient the necessary forces to attack from east to west would give the enemy a chance to catch his breath when we had him back on his heels. The branch plan involved both RCTs continuing on their north-south attack in zone to the southern portion of the city. The division's execution of the branch plan maintained the momentum of the attack. The RCTs continued south on 11 November, and by the end of the day their forward units were at the southernmost edge of Fallujah. Full combat operations continued side by side with search and attack operations through the remainder of Phase III.

Phase III-B was the search and attack period of operations. There was no defining date that neatly separates the two subphases. Phase III-B activities featured small unit combat actions that were as equally intense and lethal as the Phase III-A combat operations. The city was divided into six sectors with the mission to go through each area in detail to eliminate remaining pockets of insurgents and to identify weapons caches. With the departure of TF 2-2 and TF 2-7 at the end of November, the city was reapportioned into four sectors, maintaining the same mission. Enough cannot be said about these competent professional Soldiers who brought a tremendous capability and warrior spirit to the fight. In turn, they will proudly wear the recently authorized Blue Diamond patch of the 1st MarDiv on their uniforms.

During Phase III we actually commenced Phase IV-type humanitarian and reconstruction activities simultaneously with the search and attack operations. We knew it was critical to get a headstart in restoring the city for the inevitable return of its residents. This is where the "three block" war literally became the "three building" war. On the same block, within steps of each other, combat operations were taking place in one building, while a few buildings away humanitarian aid was being rendered, and rubble was being cleared from the streets just down the block.

The search and attack operations of Phase III-B progressed steadily through the rest of November and into December. The city was divided into 86 sectors, and the status of operations was tracked with a colorcoded map. Green, for example, meant that the sector had been cleared in detail, with weapons caches and boobytraps removed. Slowly but surely our combined forces turned sector after sector into green. Prime Minister Allawi wanted the city reopened to its citizens as soon as possible, but we held firm that the city needed to be cleared of insurgents and weapons caches before opening the floodgates to the residents. Too much blood of courageous warriors was being spilled to not get the job done right. Furthermore, we wanted to make sure that Fallujah was safe and secure for returning residents. We established a civil-military operations center (CMOC) at the site of the former government center in the heart of the city. Our Seabees and civil affairs group (CAG) personnel worked around the clock to prepare the city for the return of residents. Many of the streets were filled with rubble and downed power lines that had to be cleared. Portions of Fallujah are below the water table, and the water pumps that kept river water out had ceased operating. Standing water was perhaps the biggest problem and was eventually solved by the Seabees of the MEG. Essential services across the board were nonexistent. The CAG established three humanitarian distribution sites at key junctures in the city to provide relief supplies to returning residents. These sites eventually supplied humanitarian relief to 87,620 residents. The removal of enemy dead bodies was another important job that was completed by our joint MA teams. These teams worked closely with the combat forces, often at great peril, to ensure that enemy bodies were handled morally and in accordance with Islamic customs. In several cases the insurgents had boobytrapped the bodies of their dead in a final attempt to inflict casualties among our forces. The MA teams carefully recovered all located bodies and transported them to the potato factory for processing. Each body was meticulously checked and documented while being prepared for burial. Sunni Imams were flown in from Baghdad to perform their religious rites and ensure that the bodies were buried in compliance with religious traditions.

Open the City

The Prime Minister made the decision to open the city for returning residents on 23 December, and thus began Phase IV of Operation AL FAJR-the civil affairs phase. Reopening the city was accomplished through a sequenced phasing plan that repopulated Fallujah by opening up one district at a time (total of 18 districts) to returning residents. This control was necessary as there were still sectors of the city being cleared. Five entry control points (ECPs) were established at key roads leading into the city. Vehicles were searched by Marines and ISF Soldiers, and military-aged males were registered with the biometric automated tool set (BATS). The BATS was linked to a database that would alert us if a military-aged male had a previously recorded history of insurgent or criminal acts. Female military personnel played a critical role in this process by searching the women and children. Unfortunately, women and children needed to be searched to prevent insurgents from using them as smugglers. IIG workers and civilian contractors flooded the city to begin the process of reconstruction. We insisted that contractors hire Fallujan residents in their reconstruction projects. It was important that the rebuilding of Fallujah be an inclusive process, so the people of Fallujah would vehemently reject any attempts by insurgents to regain control. Thousands of Fallujans have been hired in the cleanup and reconstruction of their city. With unemployment running 60 percent in the Al Anbar Province, this was a winwin situation for all involved in rebuilding Fallujah. The CAG held weekly town hall meetings at the CMOC that were attended by national ministerial representatives, provincial government representatives, and local sheikhs. A $200 humanitarian payment was made to heads of household to help them get reestablished. It secured a temporary reservoir of good will with the returning residents. A total of $6,509,200 was paid to 32,546 heads of household.

The Payoff

One of the most memorable and gratifying moments of Phase IV occurred on election day-30 January 2005. Free from intimidation, the Sunni residents turned out in droves-proof positive that in an environment free of intimidation, the average citizen wants to exercise his or her right to freely determine his/her government. The 7,679 male and female residents who voted in Fallujah accounted for 40 percent of the entire vote cast in the Al Anbar Province. The elections were another strategic victory emanating from the decisive tactical victory of Operation AL FAJR.

The residents of Fallujah are eager about the opportunities that lie ahead. They are friendly and cooperative in our combined efforts to restore the city. One can hardly get out of a vehicle without being swarmed by children and residents. Residents have even identified weapons caches to our Marines and their ISF partners. A newfound sense of freedom and confidence prevails in the city, and the atmosphere is positive and electric.

The immediate impact of the first four phases of Operation AL FAJR has produced a turning of the tide in the fight against the insurgency in the Al Anbar Province. By the end of March we had recovered 629 weapons caches, just from the city itself. The amount of weapons, equipment, and ordnance is mind boggling-literally, enough to equip a good-sized army. The number of attacks throughout the MEF's area of operations dropped 40 percent between October and December. The insurgents are on the run, and those who escaped have fled out west along the Euphrates River. The 1st MarDiv's subsequent pursuits, Operations RIVER BLITZ and RIVER BRIDGE, further disrupted the intimidators' ability to conduct organized attacks and uncovered even more weapons caches they will not be able to use. Raids conducted with actionable intelligence continue to roll up cell leaders. Calls to the tips line rose 630 percent between the beginning of January and the middle of March, as the citizens are becoming fed up with the insurgents, who are turning more and more to criminal activities to finance their operations. Another good measure of the effect of Operation AL FAJR has been the 90 percent, across the board, rise in the price of weapons and ammunition on the black market.

It was recognized by the planners that the compensation to homeowners and businessmen for damage to their homes and buildings would be key to sealing the strategic victory. Full compensation would demonstrate to the Sunni residents that the predominantly Shia-controlled government cared about their plight and wanted to include them in the new Iraq. It would open up multiple avenues for the inclusion of the Sunni population in the political process and turn Fallujah into a model for the entire Sunni heartland. The tactical military success of November 2004 was subsequently turned into a political strategic victory with the issuing of the first compensation checks at the CMOC to Iraqi homeowners on 14 March. The Iraqi Government made good on its promises, and the good will it has engendered will spawn a new era of political engagement with the previously disenfranchised Sunni population. This, in turn, will be the death knell of the insurgency. While the tactical military victory of Operation AL FAJR was a knockdown blow, the strategic consequences that will flow from political engagement with the Sunni's will be the knockout punch to the insurgency.

The Future

Operation AL FAJR continues on, as Phase V has yet to be implemented-transition to local control-at the time of this writing. However, great inroads have been made in the right direction. The bulk of the joint forces providing security for Fallujah have been phased out. In their place, the ISF have increasingly taken control of the day-to-day security for the city. The ISF are the right force for this role. They instinctively identify foreigners and undesirables and stop them at the ECPs. They interact well with the local population and, since they are from other provinces, can resist the normal family and tribal influences of "homegrown" forces. Traffic police have been on the streets of Fallujah since February directing the ever-increasing volume of traffic as the city springs back to life. A new Fallujah police force is being established, with tight screening of applicants to ensure there is no return of the corrupt old guard. The new police force will start to populate the city this summer. Specially designed and constructed police forts are being built to improve their force protection and to reduce their vulnerability to insurgent attacks. In fact, these structures will become a model for other troubled parts of Iraq.

Operation AL FAJR was a classic example of integrated staff planning, interaction, and collaboration between the MEF's major subordinate commands (1st MarDiv, 3d MAW, 1st FSSG, MHG, MEG, CAG, and 11th MEU), the MEF staff, and higher headquarters. Commanders at all levels were personally involved on a daily basis in both planning and execution. The Commanding General, 1st MarDiv and key staff were up front every day during the battle to maintain their situational awareness and rapidly adjust to changing circumstances. The commanders of Multinational Corps, Iraq and Multinational Force, Iraq provided the MEF with tremendous support-evident in the allocation of roughly six Iraqi battalions plus the Army's Blackjack Brigade to the operation. They went out of their way to fulfill every request for additional resources-such as the extension of the Black Jack Brigade-and provided the political top cover that allowed the MEF to focus on the mission at hand.

The heroics and tactical details of the battle of Fallujah will be the subject of many articles and books in the years to come. The real key to this tactical victory rested in the spirit of the warriors who courageously fought the battle. They deserve all of the credit for liberating Fallujah. Their spirit is epitomized by an encounter with a wounded Marine non-commissioned officer at our Bravo Surgical treatment facility on Camp Fallujah. When asked what we could do for him, he held up his right hand and extended his index finger, then replied, "Sir, send me back to my team. My trigger-finger is still good!" This indomitable spirit was the consistent theme of all of the wounded fighters. They wanted to immediately return to the fight with their comrades. We were honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to serve with the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Special Forces, Marines, and Iraqi Soldiers who selflessly gave their all to liberate Fallujah. "Remember Fallujah" is no longer the rallying cry of the insurgency. Our warriors took that from them and made it our rallying cry.