Wednesday, November 10, 2004

No-show in Fallujah? 

So many questions, so few answers - I guess all will be revealed soon. Fox reports:
"American forces battled south through Fallujah's narrow lanes and alleys Wednesday to take control of 70 percent of the insurgent stronghold, and rebel fighters were bottled up in a strip of land flanking the main east-west highway that splits the city, the military said.

"Major Francis Piccoli, of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (search), characterized fighting overnight as 'light to moderate' and said U.S. casualties were 'extremely light'...

"The military said at least 71 militants had been killed as of the beginning of the third day of the intense urban combat. The number was expected to rise sharply once U.S. forces account for insurgents killed in airstrikes."
Seeing that the pre-battle estimates put the number of insurgents inside Fallujah somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000, hell of a lot of them have to be either buried in the rubble of "bottled up" against the highway. If you combine relatively low insurgent casualties with "light to moderate" fighting so far, you have to ask yourself, just exactly how many insurgents were there inside Fallujah to start with?

It might indeed transpire that airstrikes were exceptionally successful, or that there is going to be a bloodbath as insurgents make their last stand with their backs to the main road. Or it might transpire that insurgents have chosen not to battle the American and the Iraqi forces in a setting that (for all the talk about the perils of urban warfare) clearly advantages the attackers. Large scale urban guerrilla conflict is a losing proposition for the anti-American forces - the defence of Najaf showed just what an unwise waste of manpower it is. Terrorism, on the other hand is not. In Fallujah, or Samarra, or indeed Najaf, ten, twenty, maybe thirty insurgents will have died for every American soldier killed. In a suicide bombing attack, on the other hand, one insurgent will likely take with him anywhere from a few to a few score Americans and/or Iraqis. Now, if you were Al Zarqawi - or indeed a neo-Baathist commander with half a brain - why would you choose to waste your troops in a cauldron like Fallujah?

I do hope that I will be proven wrong on this one - I hope that what the Coalition troops are facing in Fallujah is not plenty of booby-traps and a few stay-behinds to tie down the attackers, while the bulk of Iraqi and foreign insurgents have slipped out of the town over the last few weeks to fight somewhere else and die more productively.

Update: Some interesting insight from Abu Khalid, a Saddamite army officer and now mid-level insurgent commander:
"[Khalid] confirmed the fears of US military chiefs by saying the insurgent leaders had already left the city to avoid capture. Khalid claimed they decided two days before the offensive to flee, leaving only half of their men behind to fight.

" 'From a military point of view, if a city is surrounded and bombarded the result of the battle is pre-ordained,' he said.

Khalid said insurgent leaders had debated how many men to leave in the city. 'They discussed percentages like 20 per cent inside the city and 80 per cent outside - to save as many fighters as possible for future operations,' he said. 'In the end they settled on a 50-50 split. We told the fighters that those who want to stay alive and fight should leave, and those who want to become martyrs in this battle should stay'."
Having said all that, my readers - as always - make some good points in the comments section: mainly, that for terrorists, being forced to flee from their base of operations constitutes a defeat, too, regardless of actual casualties. Fallujah could be for Iraq what Afghanistan was for al Qaeda. In Afghanistan, we succeeded in denying the terrorists their main base of operations, which means that while there is still sporadic violence throughout the country, none of it gets exported overseas. The key to Fallujah and other Sunni hot spots will be the follow-up; once secured, they will have to be kept secured to permanently deny the terrorists and insurgents a hospitable environment for their operations.


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