April 24, 2004


Suited to Guerrillas, a Dusty Town Poses Tricky Perils (THOM SHANKER and JOHN KIFNER, 4/24/04, NY Times)

If the Pentagon could build a training ground that would incorporate all the perils of urban warfare, it would look very much like the city the marines may have to invade: Falluja.

Falluja offers urban guerrillas the combat terrain they would desire. The city has nearly 300,000 residents, a complex mix of boulevards, narrow streets and many back alleys. Apartment buildings are mostly of two, three and four stories, with porches well suited to snipers. Every neighborhood has a mosque, a clinic, schools and markets, where an errant shell from the Americans could carry a high cost in civilian lives, and therefore a great risk of angering Iraqis about the occupation.

The marines encircling Falluja have logistical advantages, too.

The city is flanked to the north by one of the military's favorite geographic features, a highway, in this case the expressway linking Baghdad to Jordan. America and its allies operate from bases around Falluja that have been functioning for almost a year. They control all of the airfields in the region, and their reconnaissance planes, which have thoroughly mapped Falluja, patrol high above the range of shoulder-fired missiles.

Military officers warn that Falluja's insurgents are tunneling between buildings, linking cellars throughout the neighborhoods they control so they can pop from one building to ambush advancing American forces, then vanish underground where they cannot be tracked by helicopter or Predator surveillance drones.

Into this sand-colored and dusty community along the Euphrates River, American forces, if ordered in, would hope to attack insurgent leaders and their gunmen in a series of lightning, precise raids backed by helicopters and flying AC-130 gunships, according to Pentagon and military officials.

"That doesn't mean that we have to fight a protracted, block-to-block urban warfare," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director of operations for the military coalition in Iraq, said in a telephone interview on Saturday.

Under the military's new tactics for urban warfare, there is no boundary-to-boundary invasion of a city, but precisely focused attacks. Rather than going block by block and kicking down doors, which are often booby-trapped, troops may punch holes in the walls of buildings. A new generation of explosives is designed to open the wall, but not to blast through the building, collapse it or hit what lies beyond. Soldiers also may penetrate a building from above, deposited on roofs by ropes slung from helicopters, whose firepower would be bolstered by AC-130 gunships.

Those gunships, which already have been used to fight insurgents in Falluja, carry cannon and heavy machine guns aloft and are equipped with such sensitive surveillance equipment that crews circling a target can pick out individual adversaries.

Although the military in Iraq would draw on new technologies and new tactics to dislodge the insurgents from Falluja, "This is the most difficult of all types of situations you enter in warfare," one senior Pentagon official said this weekend.

The continued fractiousness of the Sunni Triangle affords a second opportunity to decimate that portion of the population that is most opposed to liberal government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2004 9:08 PM
Comments for this post are closed.