QUANTICO, Va. –In March of 2004, I Marine Expeditionary Force assumed full responsibility for the security of Al Anbar Province, Iraq, from the U.S. Army’s 82d Airborne Division.
On March 31, 2004, three U.S. contractors were killed by an angry mob, which burned and mutilated the bodies and hung them along the King Faisal Bridge, which runs over the Euphrates River on the western side of Fallujah.
Footage of the bodies traveled across the world. This sparked the first battle of Fallujah, known as Operation Vigilant Resolve. After six days of hard fighting, it was apparent the operation was inadequately planned.
On Nov. 7, 2004, 10 years ago, after extensive planning and preparation, I Marine Expeditionary Force began Operation al-Fajr, also known as Operation Phantom Fury the second battle for Fallujah. This was a reconstruction phase aimed toward an insurgent-free country, with an overall goal to get rid of Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime and boost the Iraqi government. The operation was a success and ended on December 20, 2004.
The leaders of Operation Phantom Fury gathered in a panel discussion Oct. 30, 2014 at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. for The General Graves B. Erskine Distinguished Lecture Series. The panel included retired Marine Lt. Gen. Richard S. Kramlich, Commanding General of 1st Force Service Support Group from June 2003 to August 2005, retired Marine Lt. Gen. Richard F. Natonski, Commanding General of 1st Marine Division from August 2004 to August 2006, retired Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, Commanding General of I MEF from September 2004 to August 2005 and retired Marine Lt. Gen. Keith J. Stalder, Commanding General of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing from May 2004 to August 2005. Along with them was Maj. Gen. Michael R. Regnar, the Staff Director of Headquarters Marine Corps, serving as moderator.
The purpose of the lecture series, sponsored by the Marine Corps University Foundation, is create better leaders by educating personnel assigned to the Marine Corps University at Quantico. By showcasing the social, political and cultural dimensions of this Nation and the world through experiences of leaders, who came before them.
Iraqi soldiers played a vital role in the success of Operation al-Fajr. After rooms were cleared they’d go into search hidings spots, which were commonly used by insurgents for weapons.
As two Iraqi officers brawled over who would sleep on the better mattress, their soldiers were out supporting the operation. The Marines taught them the importance of leadership. They learned everything from being the first up in the morning, to leaders eating last.
Iraqi and Jawani Special Forces were put into a vehicle with a hind camera driving through the city of Fallujah taking pictures of the berms and the defenses inside the city. With this intelligence they were able to determine how the defenses were oriented toward the east and formulated a course of action. They never got pulled over while collecting the photos, which would have meant instant execution.
The first battle of Fallujah, known as Operation Vigilant Resolve, was fought prematurely with little planning. This included a lack of communication with Iraqi soldiers, which led to many of them abandoning the combined joint task force to join the enemy. This time Marines sat with the Iraqi’s, looked them in the eyes and reminded them they were fighting for their country. This was the start of the rest of their country.
The Marine Corps Planning Process Really Works
More than 300 bombs, 6,000 rounds of artillery and 29,000 mortar rounds were used against the enemy and not a single U.S or allied nation fatality thanks to the Marine Corps Planning Process. Two thousand insurgents were killed and 1,200 were captured.
The pure combined joint task force successfully secured the city of Fallujah. With the help of civil affairs, nearly 50,000 civilians had reentered the city within 16 days after the city was officially secured. By the middle of January every neighborhood was open including the markets in al-Andalus District.