Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Coalition troops are employing a divide-and-conquer strategy in Fallujah, Iraq, capitalizing on months of pinpointed intelligence to seal off terrorist-held neighborhoods and then attack enemy pockets.

“It’s going to be going on for a period ahead,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said of the long-anticipated operation, which began Sunday.

A military source said the Pentagon expects the battle for Fallujah to take about one week and estimated there are about 2,000 to 5,000 enemy fighters, about half of whom are non-Iraqi.

The United States last entered Fallujah in April, when Marines killed hundreds of rebels. The Marines seemed to be on a path to capturing the town, when Iraqi politicians urged Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to stop the battle or risk political upheaval.

“I cannot imagine that it would stop without being completed,” Mr. Rumsfeld said of the current operation.

There was no word of whether master terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi was in Fallujah, which has served as a command center for his cells of foreign terrorists who specialize in deadly suicide car bombings.

“From Fallujah, they have exported terror across Iraq against all Iraqis,” said Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Since April, American forces have stayed outside the city. But intelligence collection has proceeded at a furious pace. Military sources said the U.S. command has a block-by-block schematic of the large city and knows from day to day where the rebels live and plan. That is how coalition aircraft have been able to direct precision-guided weapons at specific buildings known to harbor rebels.

“They have mapped the city and are taking the city down by sections,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney.

Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday assured reporters that “disciplined” U.S. troops will keep civilian deaths to a minimum.

“There aren’t going to be large numbers of civilians killed, certainly not by U.S. forces,” Mr. Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon. U.S. commanders think that at least half the city’s estimated 300,000 residents has left Fallujah.

“The U.S. forces are disciplined,” the defense secretary said. “They are well-led. They’re well-trained. They are using precision. And they have rules of engagement that are appropriate to an urban environment.”

Gen. McInerney, a Vietnam War fighter pilot, said his worry is that troops will be too cautious.

“If they worry too much about collateral damage, then you have to move slower,” he said. “I would level any building that offers resistance. If you try to pick guys out of a building rather than just blowing it up, that’s going to take longer. You run the risks of booby traps. You run the risk of losing people. … We know this battle is against terrorists, and we must be ruthless in the way we destroy them.”

The exact intelligence has enabled U.S. troops to assault the city at enemy strong points.

There is a hope that the precision strikes will lead to a quick victory against ragtag fighters who, while deadly, are no match for well-trained and equipped U.S. forces, whose night-vision goggles and sights give them a big advantage in the urban terrain.

The coalition’s block-by-block data on Fallujah is pieced together by numerous reconnaissance flights, communications intercepts and Iraqi informants inside the city. Two unmanned aircraft, the Predator and Global Hawk, provide constant video and still pictures for planners to analyze.

Terrorists have increased the use of intimidation tactics and violence to prevent citizens from leaving the city or informing against them, military source said.

Gen. Casey told Pentagon reporters via a teleconference call that estimates of a 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. and coalition strike force, including Iraqis, were “in the ballpark.”

Gen. Casey said the insurgents are armed with AK-47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft machine guns, he said.

However, the most danger to advancing American and friendly Iraqi forces will be homemade car bombs from terrorists.

“The weapons of choice for them are going to be the improvised explosive devices and the car bombs,” Gen. Casey said. “And all our intelligence is telling us that they have lined some of the streets with the improvised explosive devices, much like we saw in Najaf and Thawra.”

Vehicles packed with explosives also have been placed throughout the city, and “we expect them to come at us with car bombs, you know, as they’re driving through the city now,” Gen. Casey said.

The Iraqi government, in response, has banned auto traffic inside Fallujah as a way to protect troops.

The insurgents are thought to have an “outer-crust defense” that likely will collapse “toward the center of the city where they will be probably a major confrontation,” Gen. Casey said.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said some insurgents likely will try to blend into the civilian population.

“And that may make it harder in certain circumstances,” said Gen. Myers, who appeared with Mr. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. “There are also indications that they want to fight in a more conventional way.”

Mr. Rumsfeld said he did not think the battle for Fallujah will be a final showdown with enemy forces in Iraq.

“These folks are determined. These are killers. They chop people’s heads off. They’re getting money from around the world. They’re getting recruits,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

“And over time, you’ll find that the process of tipping will take place; that more and more of the Iraqis will be angry about the fact that their innocent people are being killed by the extremists, saw a number of them from outside the country, and they won’t like it.”

Gen. Casey said some of the key insurgent leaders are expected to stay and fight, he said, while others will flee and regroup.

“Yes, they’ll go off to other places and try to get set up, but when they’re doing that, they have to look over their shoulder, they have to worry about who’s at the door, they have to put guards out all the time,” he said.

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