OPERATION PHANTOM FURY: The Assault and Capture of Fallujah, Iraq.
In March 2004, ghastly photos of Americans hanging from a bridge in the Iraqi city of Fallujah appeared in the press; and, consequently, the “stuff” hit the proverbial fan. The sight of Sunni Iraqis cheering “Allahu akbar” flashed through the mainstream media like a lightning bolt. TV commentator Bill O’Reilly stated: “We should make the people of Fallujah bathe in their own blood.” And it was reported that President George W. Bush, as well as most Americans, was outraged.
Marine master historian and author Dick Camp has written the definitive account of the two major battles for the city of Fal?lujah and a “spot-on” historical account of one of our Marines’ hardest fights since the Vietnam-era ended. The book is exquisite to hold in your hands; beautifully bound, it contains more than 150 color photos set on high-quality manuscript paper.
Fallujah is located near the V-ring of what has been called, the Sunni Triangle. The city’s densely packed population had been relatively untouched in the Americans’ 2003 drive to Baghdad. However, by 2004, Fallujah had become a haven for insurgents: foreign fighters, criminals, mal?contents and arms smugglers. By one account, Fallujah was “meaner than a junkyard dog.”
Operation Vigilant Resolve, the Ma?rines’ first assault on Fallujah, was launched April 4, 2004. Leathernecks of the 1st Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment (1/5) attacked the city’s industrial center, and the 2d Bn, 1st Marines (2/1) pushed south through the northwestern urban district. The leathernecks met harsh resistance, and by April 10, 3/4 and 2/2 were committed to the still raging conflict.
As the fierce fight for the city moved forward, the struggle for public opinion was lost. The Arab press disgorged torrents of negative media hype, and the world was watching. An unrelated uprising south of Baghdad helped place a damaging political spin on the battle for the city. Bowing to world pressure, President Bush ordered a halt. The Arab press gleefully announced: “Victory!” Noted military analyst Ralph Peters warily wrote that the Marines had not been beaten, “They were beaten by Al Jazeera [the Arab press].”
The second battle for Fallujah was code-named Operation Phantom Fury, and commenced Nov. 7, 2004. The carefully designed and skillfully executed attack employed Regimental Combat Teams (RCTs) 1 and 7 attacking south into the city. The Marines were well supported by Army mechanized infantry and cavalry units. This interservice and fully coordinated air-ground approach gradually overwhelmed the insurgents trapped in the doomed city. The dense urban fighting was fierce, house by house and rooftop to rooftop.
Airpower, tanks and even bulldozers were employed to smash fanatical enemy fighters. This time, the U.S. forces took care to include a bevy of embedded journalists. The news of this battle would be reported to a keenly observant world. The second Battle of Fallujah ended after a month of hard fighting. RCT-7’s commander stated, “I was proud of the Ma?rines … how they conducted themselves in a month of hard urban combat. … We did something good.”
Dick Camp concludes his remarkable book with this revealing statement, “The insurgents in 2004 bet they could turn the city into a fortress to defeat the Americans—and they lost.”
Fallujah was the greatest urban battle Marines fought since the 1968 Battle for Hue City. Again, Marines were successfully called upon to grapple with a determined foe in a close-quarter, bare-fisted brawl. Fallujah will go down in the annals of great military battles, and it will rightly take its place in the never-to-be-for?gotten memories of U.S. Marines throughout our proud history.
Robert B. Loring
Editor’s note: Marine veteran “Red Bob” Loring is a frequent reviewer for Leatherneck and a year-round volunteer for Toys for Tots and other community programs in East Pasco County, Fla.