Fallujah yields up weapons, videos
On patrol Tuesday, marines find largest arms cache yet, hid in a nondescript building.
FALLUJAH, IRAQ — The video cassette in the Sony Handycam told the story of how the mujahideen of Fallujah prayed, lived, and died, even as US forces invaded 10 days ago.
Found along with a laptop computer, stacks of CD-ROMs, and a number of telephones in an insurgent safe house Thursday, the trove is just one of many intelligence finds in Fallujah that are shedding light on the insurgency.
Those finds - along with that of a vast weapons cache and safe house operating under the cover of an Islamic medical charity, which contained flags of Al Qaeda affiliate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - are one reason US marine commanders want to keep pushing the offensive.
While firefights continue, the battered city echoed throughout the day Thursday with the crashing booms of US military explosives experts destroying one weapons stockpile after another.
"It's going to take a long time [for insurgents] to reconstruct what they had in this city, for command and control, to push people out to Ramadi, Tikrit, and down south," says Col. Craig Tucker, commander of the Regimental Combat Team-7, which has waged the attack. They have to reestablish their ratlines."
Those who would do that - if they are still alive - are the young, thinly bearded men on the captured video, which translators believe features some fighters from Saudi Arabia or Yemen. Clearly militants, they are first shown mourning a martyr whose body lies on a stretcher with a white strip of cloth around his head.
There is an AK-47 assault rifle behind him in one scene; in another, the gun is clasped to the dead man's chest.
The film also shows tanks in Fallujah - apparently US Army tanks from the first day of assault - and a militant popping up on a rooftop with a rocket- propelled grenade (RPG), and firing wildly away from the target.
The cameraman can be heard speaking in awe: "Oooohhh."
The video shows what appears to be suicide bombers preparing for battle and talking with black-turbaned comrades. It also shows insurgents with an unmanned US drone surveillance aircraft, a Pioneer labeled "Crazy Horse 1054."
Also on tape is an antiaircraft gun mounted in the back of a truck, and night battles, with tracer rounds arcing across the sky. The computer was password protected, and is now being examined by US intelligence officers.
The light armored reconnaissance unit that discovered the safe house during a random check blew it up Thursday.
Control of Fallujah is central as the US and the Iraqi interim government try to contain rampant insecurity before January elections. As the symbolic heart of the resistance, Fallujah is a special case.
The scale of the weapons cache discovered Wednesday by Bravo Company at the suspected Zarqawi charity was the largest found in the city so far - and stashed in such a nondescript collection of buildings that US troops passed by several times without taking a closer look.
With an estimated 1,000 pounds of explosives, it could have caused damage up to six city blocks away, if detonated all at once. "Not all this stuff was being used for Fallujah - a lot was being exported out, and used as IEDs and car bombs in Ramadi and elsewhere," says Colonel Tucker at the downtown site, just 200 yards from the central Hadra Mohamadiya mosque. "This was the central location for planning."
The weapons store was laid out like an office, and worked under the legal name of the "Islamic Association - Fallujah Branch." Offices were full of documents about prosthetic limbs, and emergency medical work.
Inside, too, were photographs of staffers handing out International Committee of the Red Cross food and medical packets. Some ICRC equipment still littered the rooms, along with orders for more crutches and wheelchairs.
But also mixed up in the paperwork were pamphlets about calls to jihad, similar to those found in Al Qaeda safe houses in Kabul after the Taliban fell.
Among the documents were listed the aims of the group, which made clear that "caring for those injured on the battlefield" - insurgents - take priority.
"On the surface, it looks real, with the Red Cross," says an Arabic speaker who went through the documentation. "But their real job is something different.... It's like a front company. This is a medical facility to help insurgents."
Ledgers listed big ticket, Iraqi donors. More ledgers were for those receiving cash or food. Outside, garbage sacks were full of car alarms - a favorite for rigging command-detonated car bombs and explosives. Homemade RPGs lay in the dirt, not far from scores of Iraqi-made RPGs, oiled and stacked like cordwood.
Antitank mines and mountains of rockets and mortars of every size and description choked the buildings. An initial explosion of larger ordnance - including 14 SA-7 surface-to-air missiles- - sent a cement mixer flying 120 yards through the air.
Marines used wheelchairs as wheelbarrows Thursday to empty shipping containers of ammunition, gas masks, and mines, for further destruction.
As Fallujah yields up its secrets, US Marines say they will continue to push, even as they eye rebuilding efforts.
"We call it a 'three-block war.' You can be handing out relief supplies here," says Tucker, pointing one way, "while fighting is taking place right over there - and you've got to be prepared to do both.
"Winning the fight is only part of it."