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
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel: