Fallujah Redux: The Anbar Awakening and the Struggle with Al-Qaeda

Naval Institute Press
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The city of Fallujah, Iraq will long be associated with some of the worst violence and brutality of the Iraq war. The battles to retake the city from insurgent fighters in 2004 have already indelibly carved its name into the historic annals of the U.S. military and occupy a revered place in the storied history of the United States Marine Corps. Initially occupied by U.S. forces in 2003, it eventually served as the headquarters for numerous insurgent groups operating west of Baghdad, including al-Qaeda in Iraq and its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, until forcibly retaken at the end of 2004. Once the city was finally cleared, U.S. forces concentrated on trying to prevent it from returning to insurgent control by waging a counter insurgency campaign against both nationalist and extremist Islamist insurgent forces. It was a long, frustrating and, at times, brutal fight for control of the population with the eventual goal of setting the conditions for eventual Iraqi Government control and enabling U.S. forces to leave. Even though Coalition Forces were winning tactically, the initial policies of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which had deeply alienated the Sunni Arab population, negative press coverage of the ongoing violence, as well as the often clumsy and ineffective efforts of the developing Iraqi Security Forces served to make winning over the population a difficult process at best. The people of the area still strongly supported the nationalist insurgents and, although they often allied with the Islamists to push Coalition Forces out of Iraq, were frequently more terrified of the extremist Islamist insurgents than supportive. There seemed to be little U.S. forces could do to change the situation. By the middle of 2007, four years after the initial invasion of Iraq, the city of Fallujah and its surrounding countryside remained mired in a seemingly intractable cycle of violent action and counteraction between government security forces, assisted by U.S. forces, and the various insurgent groups. It was an unstable and chaotic time. It had even gotten to the point that some on the coalition side were beginning to wonder if Fallujah was being lost all over again. All of this began to change in 2007.


Progress up to that point had been slow, difficult to assess, and occurred in fits and starts. The hardest aspect of the counter-insurgency effort was maintaining a sense of enduring security for the population so that Iraqis would not have to live in constant fear of retribution from the different insurgent groups. Lacking an adequate Iraqi partner, this task was beyond the resources of U.S. forces in Anbar Province – something needed to change. Beginning in June 2007, local security conditions in Fallujah were fundamentally altered due to a concerted U.S. pacification campaign in the city, increased cooperation from local tribes, and greater efforts by Iraqi Security Forces. This campaign took advantage of the tide of the Al Anbar Awakening Movement that was sweeping the province from west to east as the tribes in the area and the broader Sunni Arab community began to turn against al-Qaeda in 2006 and 2007. As this movement gained momentum, Fallujah’s residents were waiting for it to push eastward in order to help them eliminate al-Qaeda from their own communities. Even though the local population had not yet risen up against the terrorist group, they were keen to do so and needed the help of U.S. forces. The campaign described in this book gave them this opportunity.
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About the author

Brigadier General William F. Mullen III, USMC is a twenty-seven year Marine Infantry Officer whose experience with Fallujah began when he served there as the Operations Officer for a Marine Regimental Combat Team from 2005 to 2006, then as an Infantry Battalion commander in charge of the city for most of 2007.

Dr. Daniel R. Green is a Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He served in Fallujah, Iraq with the U.S. Navy from April to October 2007 as a Tribal and Leadership Engagement Officer and is a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserves.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Naval Institute Press
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Published on
Sep 15, 2014
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Pages
192
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ISBN
9781612511436
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Military / Iraq War (2003-2011)
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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In August 2006, many senior U.S. officials thought America had lost the war in Iraq, as the senior U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer there wrote that control of al Anbar Province, the seat of the raging Sunni insurgency, was irrevocably lost to the insurgents. During that time, there were over 100 attacks per day against U.S. military and Iraqi forces in al Anbar, and al Qaeda in Iraq had planted their flag in the provincial capital, Ramadi, declaring it the capital of their new “Islamic State of Iraq.”

In January 2007, as a spearhead of the newly decided “Surge,” the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment deployed to Ramadi as part of the 3rd Infantry Division, the first regular Army unit to deploy to Iraq for a third time. The battalion and its parent brigade went to work in a campaign that will be seen as the D-Day of the Global War on Terror. Starting by clearing al Qaeda from the city of Ramadi and replacing them with legitimate locally raised and trained Iraqi police—while simultaneously fostering the tribal movement known as the “Awakening Councils”—the brigade began to have tremendous success. By April 2007, attacks within Ramadi went from twenty per day to one or two per week. By mid-summer 2007, attacks in the entire province were down 90 percent from 2006. Furthermore, the “Awakening” had swept through the rest of Iraq, leading to the best security situation seen since 2003. The 3rd Battalion, 69th Armored, was the only battalion to participate in this campaign from start to finish. Moreover, many of the US successes came directly from this unit’s work.

Awakening Victory tells the story of this incredible campaign through the eyes of the commander of the 3rd Battalion, who was right in the thick of the fight. The book also provides a description of the Iraqi insurgency—particularly al Qaeda in Iraq—that offers the depth and texture which are currently lacking in most Americans' perceptions of the war. It describes the battalion’s actions, including incidents previously unknown to the public, but it is not merely another blood-and-guts war story. The author uses the actions of his battalion to describe a paradigm shift that occurred, while in a totally foreign culture, yet allowed for a move from a war of bombs and bullets to one of partnership and ideas.

The author, Lt. Col. Michael E. Silverman (ret) is a political scientist and historian by education and has extensive experience in both warfare and Middle Eastern affairs, including a tour as an advisor to a Saudi Arabian infantry battalion in Riyadh. Silverman served a two-year detail to the Central Intelligence Agency at their Langley headquarters between his last two tours in Iraq. There he was privy to the Director’s Weekly Iraq Briefing, a working group that discussed issues on the war, many of which ultimately found their way into the President’s Daily Briefing. Well-versed in international affairs and world religions, he writes with the authority of someone who has both been blown-up by an IED and helped to shape US strategic policy for the Global War on Terror. In this book he describes, from the very front line, the exact turning point where the United States turned a supposedly failed war into a possibly enduring success.
March 23, 2003: U.S. Marines from the Task Force Tarawa are caught up in one of the most unexpected battles of the Iraq War. What started off as a routine maneuver to secure two key bridges in the town of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq degenerated into a nightmarish twenty-four-hour urban clash in which eighteen young Marines lost their lives and more than thirty-five others were wounded. It was the single heaviest loss suffered by the U.S. military during the initial combat phase of the war.

On that fateful day, Marines came across the burned-out remains of a U.S. Army convoy that had been ambushed by Saddam Hussein’s forces outside Nasiriyah. In an attempt to rescue the missing soldiers and seize the bridges before the Iraqis could destroy them, the Marines decided to advance their attack on the city by twenty-four hours. What happened next is a gripping and gruesome tale of military blunders, tragedy, and heroism.

Huge M1 tanks leading the attack were rendered ineffective when they became mired in an open sewer. Then a company of Marines took a wrong turn and ended up on a deadly stretch of road where their armored personal carriers were hit by devastating rocket-propelled grenade fire. USAF planes called in for fire support play their own part in the unfolding cataclysm when they accidentally strafed the vehicles. The attempt to rescue the dead and dying stranded in “ambush alley” only drew more Marines into the slaughter.

This was not a battle of modern technology, but a brutal close-quarter urban knife fight that tested the Marines’ resolve and training to the limit. At the heart of the drama were the fifty or so young Marines, most of whom had never been to war, who were embroiled in a battle of epic proportions from which neither their commanders nor the technological might of the U.S. military could save them.

With a novelist’s gift for pace and tension, Tim Pritchard brilliantly captures the chaos, panic, and courage of the fight for Nasiriyah, bringing back in full force the day that a perfunctory task turned into a battle for survival.

"Ambush Alley" is a gut-wrenching account of unadulterated terror that's hard to read yet impossible to put down. London-based journalist and filmmaker Tim Pritchard, who was embedded with US troops during the initial stages of the American-led invasion of Iraq, paints a compelling picture of one of the costliest battles of the Iraq war that will at turns anger, horrify, and sadden, regardless of one's political views."
--The Boston Globe
The cradle of an insurgency that plunged Iraq into years of chaos and bloodshed, Fallujah conjures up images of the brutal house-to-house fighting that occurred during the 2004 U.S. invasion of the iconic city. But attacks in the area actually peaked two years later, when American and Iraqi government forces struggled with a reinvigorated insurgency and the prospect of premature withdrawal by U.S. forces. Fallujah Awakens tells the story of the remarkable turnaround that followed. Journalist Bill Ardolino explains how local tribal leaders and U.S. Marines forged a surprising alliance that helped secure the famous battleground. It is one of the few books to recount events from both American and Iraqi perspectives.

Based on more than120 interviews with Iraqis and U.S. Marines, Ardolino describes how a company of reservists, led by a hospital equipment salesman from Michigan, succeeded where previous efforts had stalled. Circumstance combined with smart, charismatic leadership enabled Americans to build relationships with members of a Sunni tribe—once written off as dangerous and intractable— who pushed al Qaeda and other insurgents from their notoriously rebellious area.

Accidental killings, intertribal rivalries, insurgents, and intrigue all conspired to undue the tenuous alliance forged between the Americans and tribesmen on Fallujah’s Peninsula. But the partnership was cemented after a Marine commander’s risky decision to welcome nearly 100 injured civilians onto a secure American facility after a ruthless chemical attack by al Qaeda.

The book’s gripping storyline will appeal to readers of historical nonfiction. Its exhaustive documentation will prove valuable to military students, analysts, and historians and will help policy makers better understand what is possible in counterinsurgency. Photographs and maps further enhance the reader’s understanding of everything from tribal dynamics to the geography of firefights.
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