Operations, Humanitarian Efforts Continue in Fallujah
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2004 U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to scour Fallujah, Iraq, for the last remaining resistance forces in the city while setting up mosques as distribution points for food, water, medicine and other humanitarian supplies, a senior defense official in Iraq told reporters today.
The Fallujah operation "has gone tactically well," the official said, noting that only "very small pockets" of enemy forces remain in the city. They "wish to fight to their death, and we are accommodating that desire of theirs," he said.
It's an operation that requires U.S. troops who have witnessed "ferocious" fighting to demonstrate extraordinary self-control, he said.
In some cases, insurgents have waved white flags in surrender, only to grab a hidden weapon while being apprehended and firing at their captors, he said. Adhering to the rules of engagement in those situations "takes discipline," he said.
Meanwhile, the hunt goes on for extremists who fled the city during the long buildup to the U.S.-Iraqi offensive, Operation Al Fajr. The search is focused on towns and villages directly outside Fallujah, where troops are conducting movement-to-contact operations, the official said, as well as other sections of the area known as the Sunni triangle.
"We anticipated that the enemy would move to outlying cities. He is out there, and we are still looking for him," the official said. "We are on alert around the country, especially in Baghdad, because a city of 5 million can harbor hundreds of people."
Insurgents attacked a Task Force Baghdad patrol this morning in central Baghdad, killing one soldier and wounding nine others, U.S. Central Command officials announced today. The unit came under a cooperated attack, which included improved explosive devices, small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The name of the soldier killed is being withheld until the family is notified, officials said.
Intelligence indicates that these insurgents may plan to attack U.S. and coalition forces from the rear, the official said. "We are prepared for that," he added.
The official expressed optimism that the search will prove successful. "We know the country better than we did a year ago, and we have a better chance of finding where he may want to lick his wounds and try to regroup and we will continue to press him," he said.
The Fallujah operation represented a major success in helping stabilize the city in preparation for the upcoming elections, the official said. U.S. and Iraqi forces found "well over 100 caches" of ammunition within the city, as well as stockpiles of mortars, anti-tank munitions, and improvised explosive devices and the tools needed to build them.
"The insurgents no longer have a safe haven" where they were able to manufacture hundreds of improvised explosive devices to use against U.S. and Iraqi forces, the official said. The insurgents "were exporting terror from Fallujah. So now we have changed that dynamic of the insurgency."
The coalition recognizes that the insurgents will make every effort in Fallujah to re-establish their foothold there, he said. "We are not going to allow the city to go back (to the insurgents)," the official insisted. "They will challenge us, but we will be ready."
At the same time, the United States "has no intentions" of garrisoning the city and wants to return it to Iraqi control as quickly as possible, he said. "The Iraqis have got to do that," he said. "They recognize that. They want to do that. And we are working to give them the equipment and training" they require.
The city will require 1,200 to 1,600 trained policemen, he estimated. But even with about 1,000 new police officers graduating from the police academies each week, reaching that goal "will take awhile," the official acknowledged.
He praised the contributions Iraqi security forces made during the Fallujah campaign and continue to make during clean-up operations. "These soldiers came and fought well and have been in the fight 24 hours a day since the start," he said. "It is quite a tribute to their leadership and their fortitude," he said.
In Fallujah, U.S. and Iraqi forces are working together to meet the residents' needs as they begin returning to their homes. "We do not have a humanitarian problem. I think we have that well under control," the official said. He said "ample" stocks of food, water and medicine are on hand, being distributed from local mosques.
Fallujah will also require "significant work," he said, to get the electricity back on and repair broken water lines that could have serious sewage and sanitation implications.