Fallujah Secure, But Not Yet Safe, Marine Commander Says
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 2004 Although the Iraqi city of Fallujah is secure now that Marines there control the city, it is not yet safe for residents to return, the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force told reporters today.
During a briefing via satellite to the Pentagon from Iraq, Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler reported the death of another Marine in the city. Marines and Iraqi security forces were going house to house, clearing buildings when they came under attack, and the Marine was killed. Another Marine was injured in the incident, and an Iraqi soldier also was killed. The Marines returned fire, and the attackers were "silenced," Sattler said.
The general said he cannot consider the city safe until Marines have gone through every house and purged the town of weapons and insurgents, "who may want to fight to the death."
The battle for the city has claimed the lives of 51 U.S. servicemembers, and 425 have been wounded. Eight Iraqi security force soldiers have died, and 43 have been wounded.
Sattler said it is safe to say that as many as 1,200 insurgents have been killed in the battle, and that the coalition is holding about 1,000 insurgent prisoners.
Sattler also reported that civil-military operations to provide humanitarian assistance and to restore water and electricity have begun in the city. However, he pointed out that it will be "some time" before residents are allowed to return, and that the city's reopening will be "event based." Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who imposed strict curfews on the city prior to military operations, will make the decision on when residents may return, the general said.
"We will make a recommendation to the prime minister once we feel it is fairly safe and fairly secure," he said. He said the intent of the Iraqi government is to phase the citizens back in as the city is made safe.
"Once we've cleared each and every house in a sector, then the Iraqi government will make the notification for residents of that particular sector that they are encouraged to return," he said.
In addition, Sattler said the coalition will have to ensure that humanitarian assistance, such as food and water, is in place before residents can be allowed to return.
He said that Army and Navy engineers have begun assessing damage to the city. Fallujah's water station sustained little damage, but extensive repair is needed to water pipelines and other infrastructure, he added.
Sattler also noted that a concern for their safety is part of the delay in allowing residents to return. During door-to-door clearing operations of many homes and mosques, Marines have found stockpiles of weapons and improvised explosive devices that "are rigged like booby traps," he explained. He showed pictures of AK-47 assault weapons, a suicide vest, bags of black powder, blocks of explosives, and artillery rounds chained together to make IEDs that were stashed inside mosques.
"We've uncovered literally hundreds of these inside the town. Our warriors have been able to find them prior to them going off," the general said.
Sattler said caches found in some places were so unstable that they will have to be destroyed in place.