On the American side, our troops have been used as pawns in a game of political chess that certainly will leave them more exposed in any battle for Falluja than might otherwise have been the case. Our ultimate threat, of course, is that those 10,000 soldiers backed by air power and artillery will make an example of Falluja, producing an American version of the Roman solution to Carthage. It would serve as a fierce example of what might lie in store for any incompliant Sunni or Shiite city. As the intelligence outfit Stratfor recently put it in a report, "The Politics of Storming Al Fallujah": "[T]he fate of Al Fallujah will likely serve as an example to tribal leaders throughout the country who have remained undecided about their relationships with coalition forces and the IIG [Iraq Interim Government]." In other words, if you can't "liberate" them, crush them.
I have heard comparisons between the battle for Fallujah and the battle for Hue in Vietnam, but the only ones that stick, in my opinion, is that both fights were (are) in urban areas and both were (are being) fought by Marines with little or no help from so-called "allies". I think the Corps is being used because its tribal memory of Hue is relatively fresh. It's even the same outfit, the First Marine Division.
There are major differences. The NVA appeared virtually overnight in Hue at the onset of the Tet Offensive and the VC, who were already there, became active with their arrival. The 'insurgents' in Fallujah, whom we can roughly equate to the VC as far as training, motivation, and military organization, have been active in the city for months and are no doubt dug in hard and ready to meet their maker, as no doubt they surely will. If they are on the ball at all, they will have established defenses in depth, have defined fields of fire, and have mined and booby-trapped everything in sight. I think we'll find some of that HMX and RDX, the hard way.
The Marines, I am afraid, are stepping into a shitstorm. Their recourse will be to use massive firepower from supporting arms, which are organic to the Marine Corps, well co-ordinated and awesome in destructive power. Fallujah will be called Flat-lujah in a matter of days. They did not destroy Hue as it was an old Royal Vietnamese capitol, and home to many of Vietnam's cultural treasures. Fallujah, on the other hand, has been a center of dissent in Iraq and even Saddam trod lightly there. They will have to "destroy it in order to save it."
The Marines, Army, and Iraqi Security Forces have Fallujah surrounded. Nothing should be able to get in or out. It is besieged and cut off from resupply. This was not the case in Hue. The Marines assaulted from one direction and the NVA came from another. It was the first time in military history that the supply lines of the opponents actually crossed one another at right angles.
There are approximately 10,000 American and Iraqi troops assaulting an estimated 3000 to 5000 insurgents. In Hue, about 2000 Marines assaulted, fed in piecemeal as required, against an unknown number of NVA/VC of whom 5,113 were KIA and 89 captured. Nothing is known of the number of their wounded. The Marines lost 147 KIA and 857 WIA seriously enough to be evacuated. Those numbers of KIA are suspect due to the policy of not reporting 'Died Of Wounds (DOW)' as battle casualties if they made it to hospital. The ARVN lost 384 killed and 1800 wounded, mostly during the initial assault by the NVA.
The battle for Hue took place in three distinct phases: The battle to get to the Citadel, the site of the old Imperial Palace; the fight for the Citadel, and the Mop-up. The battle lasted 26 days.
Most of the civilians have left Fallujah. Most of the citizens of Hue remained and thousands were murdered by the VC as 'enemies of the people'. The ones who could get out after the battle started did so, but many could not.
Here's the kicker: U.S. Marines fought and died to regain what the ARVN could not defend. When the fight was over, the U.S. gave credit for retaking Hue to the South Vietnamese to shore them up politically, even though they had little or nothing to do with it. I think the same thing will happen in Fallujah: The Marines will die and then be slapped in the face, again, when the Bush cabal gives the credit to Iraqis. Political pawns indeed.
All wars are bad. This one is criminal.
My source book is Battle For Hue, Tet 1968 by Keith William Nolan.