Video: Insurgency won't go away

updated 11/10/2004 9:00:22 PM ET 2004-11-11T02:00:22

The rapid U.S. push into Fallujah has come without the sort of fateful showdown that would break the back of the insurgency. In fact, advance U.S. and Iraqi government warnings gave the militants plenty of time to get out of town, and it appears many did just that.

Military reports say small bands of guerrillas, with no more than 15 members each, fled the city in the weeks before the U.S.-led onslaught — which was widely telegraphed by public statements and news reports.

“That’s probably why we’ve been able to move as fast as we have,” one officer in the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division said Wednesday.

Insurgencies typically succeed by avoiding face-to-face battles with stronger military forces and by staging attacks where armies are weakest. The guerrillas who fled Fallujah may simply be repositioning themselves to fight elsewhere, said the officer, who agreed to discuss the Fallujah situation only if not quoted by name. Under embed rules, military officers have the option of refusing to be identified in news reports for security reasons.

How many left?
The development may mean the world’s most powerful army is chasing a smaller band of insurgents than previously thought. Before the assault, the 1st Cavalry estimated 1,200 guerrillas were holed up in Fallujah, with as many as 2,000 more in nearby towns and villages. It was unclear how many were left inside or had been killed.

U.S. military leaders, including Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of the Fallujah operation, and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi gave plenty of warnings that the assault was imminent, in part to encourage civilians to leave. Authorities also didn’t hide the movement of U.S. reinforcements from elsewhere in Iraq to take up positions around the city.

“We gave them so much fair warning that the only ones who stayed had a death wish,” the 1st Cavalry officer said.

There were unconfirmed reports that two top insurgent leaders, Sheik Abdullah al-Janabi and Omar Hadid, had been killed. But the officer said prominent insurgent leaders and fighters were thought to have fled the city, leaving behind defenders willing to fight to the death with a force of 15,000 American soldiers and Marines and Iraqi troops.

Whither al-Zarqawi?
There was no word on the whereabouts of Jordanian terrorism mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaida-linked extremist believed behind a wave of car bombings and beheadings of foreigners across Iraq and thought to be using Fallujah as a base. Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, commander of the multinational force in Iraq, said Tuesday he believed al-Zarqawi had left the city.

Slideshow: Violence in Iraq U.S. commanders built up a big attacking force to prevent a repeat of April’s failed siege of Fallujah by 2,000 Marines, when insurgents were able to leave the city to mount attacks on U.S. bases outside the city and also resupply themselves with manpower and weapons.

This time, planners brought in the 1st Cavalry’s 2nd Brigade, which blocked bridges and choked off routes into and out of the city seeking to trap fighters inside, but only a few days before the offensive began Monday.

There is little conclusive evidence that guerrillas who fled Fallujah are behind a surge in attacks on U.S. forces and supply convoys elsewhere, the 1st Cavalry officer said. Islamist Web sites have been full of calls on militants across Iraq to attack U.S. facilities in retaliation for the assault on a city that had become the symbol of Iraqi resistance.

U.S. troops have advanced relentlessly from Fallujah’s north side, fighting through two of the three rings of insurgent defenses. The fighters, mainly local Sunni Muslims with a few foreigners among them, were reported bottled up in Fallujah’s sparse southern neighborhoods Wednesday.

Unknown foreign fighters
It isn’t clear how many foreign fighters were among the insurgents in Fallujah. Before the attack, U.S. military officials estimated foreigners comprised about 20 percent of a militant force in the low thousands, while Iraqi government officials insisted the percentage was much higher.

Fallujah’s defenses have crumbled faster than U.S. analysts expected, with resistance lighter than expected. Intelligence indicated fighters’ defenses in disarray, and command networks broken down, with bands of three to five guerrillas fighting for self-preservation rather than as part of a larger, coordinated force.

Some militants have surrendered. At a prison camp at the main U.S. base outside Fallujah, troops dropped off more than a dozen men and boys, appearing to range in age from around 12 to around 50. Most were wearing traditional Arab dishdasha robes, including the black robes the U.S. military says is characteristic of the insurgents.

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