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Marines suspend Fallujah offensive, push humanitarian aid

13 Apr 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Marines from the 1st Marine Division held their positions in and around Fallujah as the Iraqi Governing Council worked to broker a bilateral cease-fire with leaders in the city.

Marines suspended offensive operations Friday after pushing forces into Fallujah to root out terrorists blamed for attacking Coalition Forces.  The fighting began April 5 and by Tuesday, lulled.  Few gunshots were heard throughout the city.

Marines and soldiers serving under 1st Marine Division suffered 39 killed in fighting across the Al Anbar province since April 5th.  Estimates put the enemy dead at 600.

"What I think you will find is 95 percent of those were military age males that were killed in the fighting," said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, commanding officer for 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment to reporters. "The Marines are trained to be precise in their firepower.... The fact that there are 600 goes back to the fact that the Marines are very good at what they do."

The fighting between Marines and enemy forces was fierce at times.  Marines called in close-air support from Air Force AC-130 Spectre gunships and fighter aircraft.  In one instance, Marines blasted a wall surrounding a mosque after enemy forces use the protected holy site to launch attacks.

"If they use the mosque as a military machine, then it's no longer a house of worship and we strike," Byrne explained.

Geneva convention laws list mosques as protected sites until they are used as platforms for enemy firing positions, at which point they may be considered a lawful military target. Schools and hospitals fall under the same protected status.

Marines fired Hellfire missiles from AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters and two 500-pound laser guided bombs to breach the wall.  The surrounding wall was destroyed with minimal damage to the mosque itself.  Marines killed the attackers inside.

"We believe we killed a bunch," Byrne added.

Marine called in more air strikes in several other instances, including a group of Marines who were attacked by four enemy fighters, who were quickly reinforced by another 12.  Marines returned fire and the enemy fled into a nearby cave.  AC-130 fire and more bomb strikes annihilated the cave where the fighters hid.

While thousands of Marines punched into Fallujah, Marines with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, in coordination with soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team from Ft. Riley, Kansas, struck into the heart of Ar Ramadi to eliminate enemy resistance there.

In one strike, 40 enemy were killed and another 37 were taken prisoner.

By Monday, attacks against Marines holding defensive positions in Fallujah dwindled.  Still, Marines held their positions, even as Iraqi leaders sought a peaceful resolution to hostilities.

"The prospect of some city father walking in and making 'Joe Jihadi' give himself up are pretty slim," Byrne said. "What is coming is the destruction of anti-coalition forces in Fallujah... they have two choices: Submit or die."

Even as Marines tightened their grip on Fallujah, humanitarian aid and medical supplies poured into the city.  Women and children were allowed to leave the city, but men of military age were held back. 

"We will always be humanitarian in our efforts," said Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general of 1st Marine Division. "We will fight the enemy on our terms. May God help hem when we're done with them."

Marine efforts to send aid to citizens caught in the Fallujah cordon were hampered by terrorist attacks, though.  Improvised explosive devices caused one convoy of food, water and blood supplies to be turned back.  Another convoy from Jordan was blasted by IEDs in the western reaches of Al Anbar Province on its way to Fallujah.

Enemy tactics grew more desperate during the past week.  Several reports surfaced of terrorists taking foreign nationals hostage, including Thomas Hamill, an American contractor. 

Marines also discovered suicide belts among the enemy dead, laden with explosives and pieces of metal shrapnel.

There were also attempts to run weapons around Marine blockades.

Marines shot and killed two terrorists in Fallujah setting in a machine gun and witnessed an ambulance pull up with another enemy fighter trying to load up the weapon.  Marines shot the third terrorist.

"We have to be careful because ambulances are being used for legitimate purposes, but we are also treating them with suspicion," Byrne said.