April marks the anniversary of the First Battle of Fallujah, aka Operation Vigilant Resolve, which took place in 2004. Led by I Marine Expeditionary Force commander Lt. Gen. James Conway and 1st Marine Division commander Maj. Gen. James Mattis, the battle was in retaliation for consecutive attacks in the region including the brutal killings of four private military contractors.
The fierce fighting lasted for a month before U.S. forces withdrew from the city and turned over control to the Fallujah Brigade. The battle is lesser known than Operation Phantom Fury, or the second Battle of Fallujah, but it was a key battle during Operation Iraqi Freedom as it brought attention to several facts the general public was not aware of and increased polarizing public opinion about the war in Iraq. More than a decade later, here are seven things you didn’t know about that battle.
1. The use of Private Military Contractors (PMC’s) began to see public scrutiny.
On March 31st, 2004 four Blackwater security contractors were ambushed, killed, and mutilated on the outskirts of Fallujah. Before this highly publicized incident, the general public had little knowledge of private military contractors and their role in the War on Terror, specifically in Iraq.
2. It was the first time insurgents, rather than Saddam loyalists, were considered the primary enemy of Coalition Forces.
Operation Vigilant Resolve brought mainstream attention to a growing insurgency comprised of insurgents other than Saddam loyalists.
3. The Battle of Fallujah thrust Abu Musab al-Zarqawi into the spotlight as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
4. It was the largest combat mission since the declaration of the end of “major hostilities.”
On May 1, 2003 President Bush gave a speech from the USS Abraham Lincoln in which he declared major combat operations in Iraq to be over. Although there continued to be guerrilla warfare, Operation Vigilant Resolve was the first time a major combat operation took place after the speech.
5. The Battle of Fallujah brought public attention to the Sunni Triangle.
When the battle began the term Sunni Triangle became widely known since Fallujah was only one of several cities known to be Sunni strongholds, all of which were located in triangle area of a map Northwest of Baghdad.
6. Scout Snipers were the core element of the strategy.
Scout snipers averaged 31 kills apiece during Operation Vigilant Resolve (one kill every 3-4 hours), according to Global Security.
7. During the Battle of Fallujah, one reconnaissance platoon set a record for Silver Stars awarded in Global War on Terror.
Four members of the second platoon of Bravo Company, First Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division were awarded the Silver Star — a record unmatched by any other company or platoon in the Global War on Terror, according to Military Times.
In addition, Capt. Brent Morel and Sergeant Willie L. Copeland were both awarded the Navy Cross for their heroism during the battle.