New Dawn: The Battle For Fallujah
During spring 2004, responding to the murder and desecration of American contractors, Marines were ordered to attack the insurgent-infested Iraqi city of Fallujah. Operation Vigilant Resolve, as it was designated, soon became a media fiasco and the operation was terminated, and Islamic militants continued to maintain possession of the city. Plans, however, soon were undertaken for a coordinated all-out rematch.
Operation Phantom Fury, or al Fajr, also known as Operation New Dawn, would be a carefully detailed, well-executed and decidedly successful military engagement. Marines had not been faced with such a complex inner-city urban fight since the Battle of Hue City during the Vietnam War. In fact, the New Dawn military planners reached back to the 1977 writings of Lieutenant General Ron Christmas, USMC, for assistance in planning this inner-city battle.
The author of “New Dawn,” Richard Lowry, described the nasty streets of Fallujah as a perilous cross between the olden-day Wild West and the futuristic movie “Mad Max.” Fallujah is located 43 miles northeast of Baghdad in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar. Positioned on the old-world Silk Road and bordering the Euphrates River, this Byzantine metropolis had been fought over since early antiquity; and it was a long-established headache for countless would-be rulers.
The city always had been a sanctuary for close-knit and independent tribal factions; but by 2004, the city also had become a haven for Saddam supporters, former Baath party members and diehard Iraqi Republican Guard soldiers. Additionally, the hot-blooded city had become a magnet for hardcore fundamentalists from a range of Islamic countries. Fallujah became a symbol of resistance to the recently formed Iraqi government.
On Nov. 8, 2004, a combined Army, Navy and Air Force personnel joined Marines, in “full body rattle,” in the new assault upon Fallujah. Regimental Combat Teams 1 and 7, supported by U.S. Army armored units, attacked south through the city. As expected, the prolonged fighting was fierce. Marines assaulted through a maze of narrow streets and multistoried concrete buildings.
Clearing fortified structures, house by house, was a dirty, agonizing and thankless affair. “Grunts” used a “whack-a-mole” approach, wielding grenades, bayonets and well-placed small-arms fire to dislodge and destroy well-motivated, well-armed insurgents. The deft use of combined arms—armor, artillery and well-coordinated air support—helped decide the intensely violent conflict. In some instances, armored D9 bulldozers were employed to hammer down hardened enemy fortifications.
On Nov. 10, and before resuming the attack, Captain Drew McNulty read former Marine Commandant, General John A. Lejeune’s Marine Corps Birthday message. Over the citywide loudspeaker, the captain ended his message with this compelling pronouncement: “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Today, I expect the enemy to stand and fight. Kill him and kill him twice. Oorah, Semper Fi, and Happy Birthday.”
By New Year’s Day 2005, the insurgents had suffered a major defeat. Importantly, and thanks to the skillful uses of embedded news reporters, the always difficult media war had been won.
“New Dawn: The Battles for Fallujah” is a well-written, well-researched account of this monumental battle in Marine history. Thanks to Richard Lowry’s fine book and “Operation Phantom Fury” by Dick Camp, the Battle of Fallujah will take its rightful place in Marine history and in the lore of the Corps.
“New Dawn” paints a dust-choked graphic look into the intricacies of modern urban combat. The author skillfully includes the personal accounts of nearly 200 combatants in the book’s first-rate narrative. The reader will be awed by the courage of Marines, sailors and soldiers who battled in the Iraqi city. Within the fire-swept stairs of well-fortified buildings, desperate men struggled in a maze of close-quarter gunfights. Talk about reality-based action: this saga of Marines is a combat thriller!