US begins its biggest urban offensive since Vietnam with long-awaited Fallujah assault

The American assault on Fallujah, the stronghold of Iraqi insurgents, finally began last night in what is expected to be the biggest urban assault by US forces since Vietnam.

The American assault on Fallujah, the stronghold of Iraqi insurgents, finally began last night in what is expected to be the biggest urban assault by US forces since Vietnam.

After a day which saw US warplanes bombarding the city with 500lb bombs, incursions began about 7pm local time with marines moving into the city through a number of routes and seizing rebel-held territory.

In the early hours of this morning, a tank company and infantry unit moved to a staging area near Fallujah. Witnesses said there was heavy fighting on the eastern and western fringes of the city. US forces were reported to have taken over the main hospital.

Sources say there will not be a full offensive on Fallujah. Instead, US forces and their Iraqi allies will take the city section by section by clearing houses. The operation is intended to take no more than two weeks.

The US military, with the fledgling Iraqi security forces in tow, hopes the Fallujah offensive will deal a heavy blow to the insurgency, creating sufficient stability for the elections in January. Many of the attacks on the international forces and members of the Iraqi government are thought to have been organised from the city, which is thought also to be the base of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the insurgent ringleader. The insurgents say they will counter with escalating violence.

There has also been criticism that the assault has been so long coming, amid suspicion that it was delayed to avoid damaging headlines about civilian casualties in the run-up to the US Presidential election.

But the offensive will be controversial. There are fears that significant numbers of civilians will be killed in the process. British troops have for the first time been moved to the north of Iraq to free up American forces for the assault. It is understood that British soldiers sealed off a bridge over the Euphrates yesterday to prevent insurgents using it to make their escape from Fallujah.

Earlier US troops announced they had "isolated Fallujah" and all traffic into and out of the city had been halted.

Government negotiators reported the failure of last-minute peace talks as Iyad Allawi, the interim Prime Minister, maintained that dialogue with Fallujah leaders was still possible. Mr Allawi, a secular-minded Shia Muslim, faces strong opposition from within the minority Sunni community to avoid an all-out assault. The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, has voiced fears that an assault could trigger a wave of violence that could jeopardise the January elections.

US commanders pumped up troop spirits yesterday. Standing before some 2,500 marines, who stood or knelt at his feet, Lt-Gen John F Sattler, the commanding officer of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, told them that they would be at the front of the charge. "This is America's fight," Lt-Gen Sattler said. "What we've added to it is our Iraqi partners. They want to go in and liberate Fallujah. They feel this town's being held hostage by mugs, thugs, murderers and terrorists."

Two marine battalions, along with a battalion from the army's 1st Infantry Division, will be the lead units sent into a Fallujah attack. They will be joined by two brigades of Iraqi troops.

More than 10,000 US troops massed around the Sunni Muslim city are expected to take a role in the assault on Fallujah, whose green-lit minarets are visible from the US base near the city. Sgt Major Carlton W Kent, the senior enlisted marine in Iraq, told troops that the coming battle of Fallujah would be "no different" to the historic fights at Inchon in Korea, the flag-raising victory at Iwo Jima, or the bloody Tet Offensive to remove North Vietnamese from the ancient citadel of Hue in 1968. "You're all in the process of making history," he told them. "This is another Hue city in the making. I have no doubt, if we do get the word, that each and every one of you is going to ... kick some butt."

The US Marines battalion commander Lt-Col Mike Ramos said many would be going into combat for the first time.

Despite the grisly evidence of earlier US offensives against the insurgents, Lt-Col Ramos, 41, of Dallas, predicted that "freedom and democracy" would prevail in Fallujah within days. "Make no mistake about it, we'll hand this city back to the Iraqi people," he said.

Rules of engagement allow US troops to shoot and kill anyone carrying a weapon or driving in Fallujah, so US troops can fire on car bombers, Lt-Col Ramos said. Military-age males trying to leave the city would be captured or turned back.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'