The Latest on the Offensive in Fallujah
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
GWEN IFILL: Jackie Spinner, welcome. We are told that there are 10,000 marines, six battalions worth of U.S. and coalition troops on the ground, that there are 3,000, estimated 3,000 insurgents abroad in Fallujah. Where are you and what have you seen?
JACKIE SPINNER: I am with the army’s 1st Infantry Division, Task Force 22 they call it. I am at their command post just outside of the city. The first ID soldiers were some of the first into the city when the offensive kicked off, and that was about 7:00 local time here in Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: And when you say you’re on the outskirts of the city, have you been in Fallujah proper?
JACKIE SPINNER: I have not been in yet, but the soldiers of the unit that I am attached to did go in about three and a half, four hours ago, crossing over those large mounds of dirt that the insurgents had encircled the city with as a protective measure against just this kind of assault that took place tonight.
GWEN IFILL: And they came in from which direction into the city?
JACKIE SPINNER: They came in from the Northeast. The military commander said they believed that the insurgents thought the assault would come from the West. There was a pre-battle operation that took place last night on that western peninsula of the city. That’s a relatively quiet area, and it was believed that the insurgents thought the U.S. forces might come in that way because it was the path of least resistance. In fact, it came down right the center of the city where a lot of the insurgents are… insurgents’ activity has been taking place.
GWEN IFILL: So can you describe for us kind of the scope of this assault so far? We’ve been waiting for it to begin for so long.
JACKIE SPINNER: We have. And you know, I’ve spent about the last ten days with the marines here at this main base outside of the city, and I can tell you that there was a lot of anticipation and expectation on their part. They were really anxious to get this thing kicked off and get in and get it done so that they can go home. And, you know, it happened finally. The prime minister gave the authority today for it to happen. He came here and rallied the Iraqi forces, which are also taking part in the assault. And we finally got off the ground.
GWEN IFILL: Is the offensive pretty much non-stop or is it start-and-stop? Is it something that we would recognize troops, I mean, tanks on the ground or aerial support?
JACKIE SPINNER: Yeah, you have a mixture of both. The U.S. warplanes and the gunships came in first. They’ve been firing on the city for weeks now, but they really intensified their assaults in the hours before the ground forces came in to soften up some of the defensive positions of the insurgents.
And then you had what you would, you know, describe as a typical front line battlefield: Tanks, armored humvees, Badley fighting vehicles, the marine’s amphibious assault vehicles, all of those sort of moving in in a column, coming into the city with the air strikes still coming overhead. And I’m actually hearing right now the thunderous booms of those gunships firing on the city still and the outgoing artillery from the base where I am.
GWEN IFILL: Have the marines who have come back described to you what kind of resistance they’re meeting?
JACKIE SPINNER: Nobody has really come back yet, but what we’re hearing here based on radio traffic and from the tactical operations center is that there has been light resistance. That is not unexpected. The heaviest battle is expected in the neighborhood where the insurgents are believed to be based. That’s the Jolan neighborhood and the industrial district of the city. They have not fully pushed in there yet.
GWEN IFILL: There were reports today that one of the first buildings that was seized was a hospital in Fallujah. Can you explain what that was about?
JACKIE SPINNER: Yeah, that was actually taken last night by a blend of Iraqi Special Forces and American troops. I talked to the commander of the civil affairs, the Fourth Civil Affairs Group today, which is responsible for that hospital. And he said that this was something that they had decided very early in the planning stage to do so that they would have a secure location to treat the wounded in this attack and basically to keep the medical system up and running even in the midst of an assault.
GWEN IFILL: Because there was such a long run-up to this assault happening, I wonder whether there’s any sense that the insurgents they are chasing for have already fled or whether they have so booby trapped the whole area that it is even more dangerous for the coalition troops going in.
JACKIE SPINNER: Well, Gwen, it’s a great point. I mean, the insurgents have basically had six or seven months to prepare for this. And the military knows that and they are fully expecting to find this city laced with booby traps. And they have. There is one of my units that I’m with tonight, as they were crossing one of the berms, they laid out some explosives to clear a path and had huge secondary explosions from all of the mines and the bombs that had been planted in that berm.
So this is something that they’re expecting when they go in, and it is a very dangerous environment. This urban warfare is one of the most sophisticated and difficult battlefields that any army, any army faces.
GWEN IFILL: And finally, Jackie, there’s been a lot of discussion about what the role has been for Iraqi troops on the ground. Is there any way to gauge where they have been the leading this assault or U.S. troops have been leading it?
JACKIE SPINNER: I think it’s fair to say, in spite of what the defense minister told the Iraqi troops yesterday, which was only Iraqi forces would be entering the city and the multinational forces would play a support role, that was absolutely not true, and it’s not true tonight. The U.S. forces are leading the way.
They do have Iraqi forces with them, but the primary role for the Iraqi troops will be bringing up the rear. It’s an important role because they will be responsible for keeping clear the areas that the American forces move through.
GWEN IFILL: Jackie Spinner from the Washington Post, thank you very much.
JACKIE SPINNER: Thanks.