November 5, 2004

U.S. war planes continued to bomb the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah on Friday as American and Iraqi ground troops prepared for a major operation aimed at gaining control of the city. Military experts discuss the upcoming operation.

KWAME HOLMAN: U.S. Marines kept the pressure on today, preparing for an all-out assault on the city 35 miles west of Baghdad. Fallujah is a part of the so- called Sunni Triangle that also encompasses Ramadi and Tikrit. And since the U.S. occupation, it has been a center of nationalist resistance.

In recent months, it's also been a haven for insurgents, including, U.S. officials believe, the al-Qaida operative, Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He has launched a campaign of kidnappings and beheadings of Americans and other foreigners. In recent weeks, U.S. aircraft have attacked alleged terrorist targets in Fallujah. According to U.S. commanders, a ground assault only awaits a green light from Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi. Meeting European leaders in Brussels today, Allawi issued his latest warning to insurgents.

AYAD ALLAWI: The window really is closing for peaceful settlement. The Fallujah people have... most of them have left Fallujah, and the insurgents and the terrorists are still operating there. We hope they will come to their senses, otherwise we will have to bring them to face the justice.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Iraqi interim president Ghazi al-Yawer has been much more cautious, and said he wants to avert military confrontation in the city of 300,000 people. Last March, four American contractors were ambushed on a heavily traveled road cutting through the city. Insurgents killed them, burned and dragged their bodies, eventually hanging them from a bridge. Their deaths led to a U.S. siege on the city lasting three weeks, before Marines were ordered to pull back. Marine commanders since have stated they had wanted to finish the job.

The Marines turned the city over to a group of former Baathist army officers called the Fallujah Brigade, but it fell into disarray and was disbanded. Since then, the city has been under the effective control of bands of nationalist and Islamist insurgents. U.S. Marines have stepped-up foot patrols and searches on the edges of Fallujah, in anticipation of a coming ground assault. It could include combat in a labyrinth of narrow, twisting streets, and amid bombed-out buildings.

The preparations for battle

JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner has more.

MARGARET WARNER: And for more on the possible shape and risks of the expected battle for Fallujah, we turn to: Retired Navy Admiral Stansfield Turner, former CIA Director during the Carter administration; retired Marine Corps Colonel Randy Gangle, who is executive director of the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command -- he was in Iraq in September; and retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, who led a unit during the first Gulf War-- he's also a military historian and the author of "Transformation Under Fire: Revolutionizing how America Fights."

Welcome, gentlemen all.

Col. Gangle, from a military and strategic perspective, first of all, is this assault necessary?

COL. RANDY GANGLE (Ret.): I don't think from a military or strategic perspective it is necessarily required, but I think from a political perspective it is. This is a city that has essentially been in revolt against the central government and needs to be brought back under control.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it, Adm. Turner?

ADM. STANSFIELD TURNER (Ret.): I don't think we can really tell. I don't think we have enough information from on the ground in Iraq to know whether there's more risk in going in and killing a lot of Iraqis or in holding off and probably having to postpone the elections. I would vote, though, for the more peaceful route without as much bloodshed and hope we can do it through a more peaceful process.

MARGARET WARNER: Col. Macgregor, where do you weigh in on this question? Kofi Annan sent letters to the president and the... President Bush, that is, and Prime Minister Blair last week warning essentially what Adm. Turner warned of, that it could just alienate more Iraqis.

COL. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR (Ret.): Well, I think it is now a strategic necessity. The postponement beginning in April was a disaster and has been a public relations disaster for United States and Iraq and the Arab world. We've watched week after week after week as open rebellion has established itself in the city, made it abundantly clear that as long as they are there, there is no hope for a better or more democratic government to come to power. And at the same time, they've become folk heroes in much of the Arab world. We absolutely have to remove them. This has to be an object lesson not only for those inside the country who think they're going to obstruct the emergence of a new and better society but also for others in the region who may question our resolve.

Taking the city

MARGARET WARNER: Well, whatever the wisdom or not if we take Prime Minister Allawi at his word, it is going to happen unless they suddenly and unexpectedly surrender. So let's take a look at Fallujah and I'll begin with you, Col. Gangle. And I think we have a map. This is a city of roughly four square miles at its height it had 300,000 residents. How do U.S. forces go about taking this city?

COL. RANDY GANGLE (Ret.): Well, the first thing that you'll see-- and I think we saw it today-- the city will be isolated so that reinforcements cannot... any more reinforcement can be brought into the city. And I think there will be an attack probably on several axis in order to try to confuse the defenders as to exactly where our main thrust is coming from.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean on several of the different roads that we saw coming in?

COL. RANDY GANGLE (Ret.): It may not necessarily follow the roads. That would be too obvious. The roads are the main killing zones. But from different directions yes, different axes as they say in military jargon, that's what I would expect.

MARGARET WARNER: Colonel Macgregor, how do you see this battle unfolding?

COL. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR (Ret.): Well, one possibility is that we'll see that the city is divided up into zones of attack and urban assault forces, given that this is a Marine operation will consist heavily of light infantry along with some armor and artillery and they will move systematically through the zones of attack, pinpointing the enemy, destroying him with direct fire or stand off attack, and those who don't stand still they will attempt to herd into a position where they can be annihilated with firepower.

What U.S. and Iraqi forces might encounter

MARGARET WARNER: Adm. Turner, what kind of tactics should U.S. forces expect to encounter from the insurgents?

ADM. STANSFIELD TURNER (Ret.): I'm very concerned at the time that the insurgents have had to prepare for this much-publicized attack. They're going to have laid mines and other explosives that they can detonate in the roadways. They're going to set up booby traps in buildings. They're going to have sniper positions all well organized. It's going to be a very difficult assault. I think we've got to... if we're going to go in, hope we can do a lot with air power to begin with if we have enough intelligence to know where their concentrations of power are and then follow it up with heavy armor, it's going to be door to door eventually, however and lots of losses on both sides.

MARGARET WARNER: Is that what we're talking about, really, Col. Gangle, door to door urban combat? And if so, how does... how do U.S. forces distinguish between Iraqi civilians who are still there and these insurgents?

COL. RANDY GANGLE (Ret.): Well, yes I think it is going to be door to door because in order to secure the city, we're going to have to eliminate these insurgent forces. You've hit on one of the key problems, and that is how do we identify the good from the bad? Obviously if you're wearing civilian clothes and you put down your weapon you can try to pretend that you're an innocent civilian. I think what you'll see is virtually any men who are left in the city, if they resist, they'll be eliminated or captured and if they don't resist they probably will be rounded up and the Iraqi forces will then do some sort of screening to determine whether they were just innocent civilians or they actually were part of the insurgent force.

MARGARET WARNER: Col. Macgregor, what's your view of how to distinguish between the civilians that remain and the insurgents? And given all the advance warning we've seen of this battle, why would the insurgents have remained? Who would have remained?

COL. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR (Ret.): Well, we don't know precisely how many are still in there. It's an interesting mix of various groups. As far as the civilians are concerned, my impression is that most, in fact, have left. And I'm sure that whoever is still there will be encouraged to get out. But once we go in there, we have to be very careful not to hesitate. This is not the time to be too careful because the opportunity for unnecessary casualties on our side, as Adm. Turner has pointed out, I think is substantial.

MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, why wouldn't the Iraqi insurgents simply try to melt into the civilian population in some fashion or hide in basements or in tunnels as they've used in other cities? I mean...

COL. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR (Ret.): Well, they no doubt will. Some will. But I don't think there's enough of a civilian populous left in the city at this point for them to simply melt away. Most of the civilians are gone. You're dealing with a lot of people who will welcome the opportunity to make a show of this. This has become a media event, unfortunately. Having not gone in in April and finished this off quickly, we are now dealing with something that is not going to be helpful, but the longer it lasts, the worse it gets in terms of media coverage.

MARGARET WARNER: Adm. Turner, the U.S. is also saying, of course, that Iraqi forces, government forces, newly trained, will be part of this operation. What role do you foresee for them?

ADM. STANSFIELD TURNER (Ret.): I don't think they're ready at this point. And that's one reason I think it would be well to push this down the pike a little bit until we have time to get more reconstruction money into the place, until we have time to train these Iraqi forces better and then we should work out a contract with Prime Minister Allawi that we're going to... when he feels he's ready to use his own forces, we'll give him support but we'll set a time for us to pull out and only come back in if he asks us to. That, I think, is a better try win the hearts and minds of these Iraqi people.

MARGARET WARNER: But Col. Gangle, if that isn't the way this proceeds, do you think that the Iraqi forces are well trained enough yet or do you agree with Adm. Turner, and do you think they have the will to fight other Iraqis?

COL. RANDY GANGLE (Ret.): Well, on the will part, we're going to find out I think very soon. As to the training, certainly the training program that is now being run by Gen. Portrayis is much, much better than the first go-round and the disaster we saw with the first battalion we tried to bring in Fallujah in March. They essentially have been issued uniforms and weapons and told "now you're a soldier."

They now have a much more extensive training program. I'm not going to claim that they're professionals in the context that the U.S. forces are, but certainly they are far more professional than they were then. So I think they'll do a better job. How good that job will be remains to be seen. I think their primary role will be as a security force once we've cleaned the city out. I'd like to...

MARGARET WARNER: So, in other words, they would come in behind the main fighting force?

COL. RANDY GANGLE (Ret.): Yes. I think some will accompany the main thrust but I think the primary role will be to secure the city afterwards, which is a smart thing, I believe, to have Iraqis patrolling and securing the city. I disagree with the admiral, one point the admiral made about delaying the elections. I think if we delay the elections, that has ramifications that go far beyond just Fallujah. That now tells the Shiites we're not interested in their concerns about establishing an elected government. So I think there's a danger of putting off those elections just because of Fallujah.

Potential loss of life and length of battle

MARGARET WARNER: Let me end by asking all three of you-- and I'll start with you, Col. Macgregor-- to give us your prediction of the loss of life both American and Iraqi in this, and how long this is going to last.

COL. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR (Ret.): Well, as I said, first of all we don't have operation or tactical surprise, which is unfortunate. The enemy knows we're coming. He is, as the admiral pointed out, prepared. How many enemy are actually in there, whether it's six hundred, a thousand, two thousand, I don't know. They're all going to fight very hard and they will use whatever resources they've got.

I wish that we were using infinitely more armor than will be the case with the Marines. I'm very concerned about leading with far too many dismounted infantrymen, and I'm not excited about sending large numbers of American infantrymen into lots of little houses and buildings. I would prefer to use the firepower from 25 millimeter chain guns, tank guns, self-propelled artillery and direct fire. This is not the time to tiptoe through Fallujah. I would be much happier about this situation if we were going to be violent, aggressive, and expose fewer of our soldiers in the light infantry up front.

Under those circumstances, I wouldn't want to hazard a guess except that I would promise everyone in Fallujah who resists us will be gone sometime in the next few days if we launch.

MARGARET WARNER: And, briefly, like a two-word answer because I need to get to them. You're talking about even if it meant essentially razing the city or causing huge physical destruction, you'd do that rather than the -- sending in a lot of infantry?

COL. DOUGLAS MACGREGOR (Ret.): Absolutely. I would unhesitatingly do that rather than sacrifice American life.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you want to hazard a prediction on loss of life and destruction of... I'm sorry - I'm switching to Adm. Turner because we're just about out of time.


ADM. STANSFIELD TURNER (Ret.): Well, listening to the colonel, the destruction is going to be immense and the loss of lives are going to be very large, too. I think it's going to be much greater impact on both Iraq and the entire Middle East than we are estimating.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Col. Gangle?

COL. RANDY GANGLE (Ret.): It's difficult to predict but I do think that the loss of life will not be as bad as Col. Macgregor is anticipating.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you all three very much.


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