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Embedded Correspondents Report U.S. and Iraqi Forces Control Most of Fallujah

Terence Smith gets an update on the offensive in Fallujah from two news correspondents embedded with military units in Iraq.

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  • SOLDIER:

    We're going in. We're taking the city this time.

  • PAUL DAVIES:

    "We're taking the city." No idle boast, two-thirds of Fallujah is tonight in American hands.

    But it's been achieved the hard way. Close combat is rarely witnessed in modern day conflict. These remarkable images sent back over shaky video phones tell a story just about as far away from the clinical long- range warfare the Americans would prefer to wage as it's possible to be.

    Here, every house in every street has to be taken, and the Marines come under fire from militants they can't see.

    When an enemy gun position is spotted in one of the many shell-scarred buildings, tanks are brought up. This fire fight in the Jolan district lasted more than seven hours, but at the end of it another block had been gained.

  • SOLDIER:

    I want to keep pushing up.

  • PAUL DAVIES:

    "I want to keep pushing up," the officer says, but the swift progress of this operation has been at a cost. Even before today's street battles, ten American soldiers had been killed, more than 40 Marines and their Iraqi allies injured, the wounded evacuated under fire as the advance continued.

    There are no accurate figures on the number of militants dead or civilian casualties. Late today, the Marines were still meeting fierce resistance from insurgents who appeared to be firing from Fallujah's historic mosques.

  • SOLDIER:

    We're taking fire from the mosque, especially south of us.

  • SOLDIER:

    The ones we can see, yeah?

  • SOLDIER:

    That one right there.

  • PAUL DAVIES:

    The assault is entering a new highly sensitive stage, but as it does so, Iraqi forces fighting alongside the Marines say in a newly captured building, they have found what they call a slaughterhouse used for holding hostages. In the face of this firepower, the hostage-takers had fled.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Then, earlier this evening, Terence Smith spoke by telephone with Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor, who's also embedded with the Marines inside Fallujah.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor, you've been traveling with the U.S. Marines in Fallujah. What did you see today?

  • SCOTT PETERSON:

    Well, today seems clear that the Marines and also some of the other elements from the army are consolidating their positions, pushing deeper into Fallujah.

    Yesterday, the Marine elements I was with– this is the 1-3 battalion– they traveled straight down and made much further progress than they thought that they would and actually got to the highway that cuts Fallujah east and west.

    From today, they have branched out. They've gone across that road. They've continued fighting. What they're doing is holding strong points in the city, but they're also keeping open certain supply columns and other things.

    So what that does, it means that there is a trail of troops, both Marines and also some army elements, that are… that snakes out of the city from the center. And meanwhile, the forward elements continue pushing.

    If you hear in the background, you may hear, we've had a screaming… just had a screaming missile come racing down. And often, when that happens– this one may have been a dud– it causes a very loud, loud burst, indeed. We've had a lot of firing tonight, artillery and rocket fire.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    And where are you now?

  • SCOTT PETERSON:

    I am very near that East-West Highway. This is definitely one of the forward positions. But I must say that there are American positions of all types of units that are kind of surrounding us and in this area.

    I mean, there really are a lot of Americans, but also, as we've seen today, there are also many, many insurgents left, too. They pop up in numbers of one, two, three or five. They come in rocket teams where they present themselves and fire.

    They are engaged almost immediately, and the Marines I was traveling with today had at least one kill that they were certain of. But there were several others, too. I mean, there really were kind of constant firefights today with just about all units who are involved in Fallujah.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    And are there booby traps and explosives that also throw up hazards to the troops as they go in?

  • SCOTT PETERSON:

    Well, it seems that most of those, at least in the area where we have been operating in northeast Fallujah, most of those were on the outer perimeter defenses of the city.

    Once we've gotten inside, there have not been quite as many reports of those, but, of course, as every day goes by now, we hear huge, huge blasts that cannot be attributed to tank fire or artillery fire and that we often believe are IED– you know, improvised explosive devices — going off.

    So, those kinds of things have been happening frequently each day.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    And Scott, are you seeing the people of Fallujah? Are there people still left in Fallujah? Do you encounter them as you go in?

  • SCOTT PETERSON:

    Well, in fact, extraordinarily, the city has really become a ghost town. I mean, today we saw the first civilians that we've seen at all. There were eight… I saw eight groups… eight people. There were two groups of men who were in houses very, very frightened when Marines broke in and found them there.

    But basically they were guarding their houses; they had sent their families away. No weapons were found in these houses.

    So I think that, in most cases, those people were… at least in another case, there was a family of six in which it seemed a father, mother, three smaller children and a baby. And they were actually escorted by Marines to safety, in fact.

    That happened early this morning. But really there are almost no civilians out here. Nobody pokes their head up.

    And in fact, when anyone does poke their head up, they're almost universally considered to be a target. Those who have done this in the last couple of days that I've seen have, in fact, had weapons and been engaged.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor, thank you very much for talking with us.

  • SCOTT PETERSON:

    Take care. Thank you.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Terry also spoke by phone with Washington Post reporter Jackie Spinner, who is on the outskirts of Fallujah.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Jackie Spinner, welcome. We've just seen some very vivid images of street fighting in Fallujah. Can you give us an assessment now as to how this assault is going?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    It's actually moving fairly rapidly. They estimate, the military does, that they now control 70 percent of the city. They're in a little bit of a holding pattern right now. It's about 12:30 in the morning here in Iraq.

    They expect to continue pushing into the southern part of the city tomorrow. And that is an area where they believe they could encounter some of the tougher resistance they had expected going in three days ago.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    How much resistance today? Is it spotty?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    It's spotty. I would describe it as pockets of resistance. Where they find it, it can been fairly intense. They've had snipers, insurgents, you know, engaging in small arms fire with them. They're still finding numerous booby traps that the insurgents left behind.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Is there any way to estimate the number of insurgents in the city that are there still prepared to fight?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    I don't think that there is. I haven't heard anything, certainly from the military. I know going into this they expected to find two to three thousand foreign fighters. It's certain that they have not found that many individuals in there.

    They're not telling us how many people they've detained. I know they've had, you know, numbers of people who have gone to the American forces and the Iraqi forces and given themselves up. I was there tonight on the edge of the city when about 14 insurgents gave themselves up to the American forces.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    So is it assumed that some, anyway, insurgents made their way out of the city before the cordon was completed around it?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    I think that's probably a safe bet. They're also… you know, it's clear that many of them might have been killed in the air strikes.

    There was some pretty fierce air power launched on the city in the days and the hours leading up to the ground offensive. There are parts of the city that the soldiers are describing are just, you know, piles of rubble. So it could be that many of these insurgents were killed in those air strikes before things even kicked off.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    Now, I understand that you're at a military base just outside the city now. But today, you were in there, in Fallujah. What was the scene where you were?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    Well, I was there toward evening. There was quite a bit of gunfire being exchanged. Lots of orange glows from the artilleries that were — the artillery canons that were being launched into the city.

    It was very noisy. It was very dusty. A lot of troop movement at that time; the city's a mess, frankly.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    And do they have Iraqi security forces coming in with them to secure the city once it's been taken?

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    They do. They have Iraqi forces that are fighting alongside with them on the front lines. They also are using the majority of those forces to come in behind them to do the house-by- house sweeps, to stabilize and control the areas where the forces have moved through.

    And there was the Iraqi troops today that found those abandoned houses in the northern part of the city where an Iraqi general described them as slaughterhouses for some of the foreign hostages that were taken captive in recent months.

  • TERENCE SMITH:

    All right, Jackie Spinner of the Washington Post. Thank you very much for talking with us.

  • JACKIE SPINNER:

    Thanks for having me.

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