Despite being a conflict that lasted well over eight years with constant news coverage, the Iraq War is still one of those conflicts where historians are beginning to highlight new things on a daily basis in regards to what went on there.
Such is the case for the Battle of Husaybah, a lesser-known incident due to being overshadowed by the concurrent (and arguably more famous) Battle of Fallujah.
Taking place in the Anbar Province of Iraq near the Syrian border, the Battle of Husaybah lasted only fourteen hours- but for those who were there, it may have well lasted an eternity.
In the Spring of 2004, Marines were putting so much pressure on insurgents in Fallujah that the guerrillas were looking to relieve some of that pressure with an offensive of their own. After a failed attack in Ramadi, the militants turned their sights to Husaybah, a relatively lightly-defended city compared to Fallujah.
On April 17, insurgents lured Marines out of their remote outpost on the outskirts of the city and ambushed them, raining small arms fire upon them from a former Ba’ath Party Headquarters building.
Outnumbered 300 to 150 by the insurgents, the US Marines of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Div. reacted swiftly to contact and began doing what Iraq-era Marines did best: taking out the trash, even if it meant doing it one room at a time.
Going house to house, the Marines cleared every building along several blocks while actively engaged in brutal street fighting- without any help from even the most sympathetic of locals.
“We were getting small-arms fire, machine-gun fire and mortared on a regular basis for the entire time we were there,” said then-Lance Cpl. Austin T. Herbel, an assaultman for Weapons Platoon, Company L, in a 2004 interview by the US Marines.
“The locals were afraid to help us because the terrorist would kill anyone who helped us,” said then-Lance Cpl. Andrew Y. Tuttle, another assaultman for Weapons Platoon.
There was grim truth to this- the insurgents, ruthless and desperate to maintain control, often punished local sympathizers in horrific ways.
“It was so bad that children would get their hands cut off for selling us sodas,” recounted then-Lance Cpl. Joshua J. Rutherford, a machine gunner for Weapons Platoon.
During this battle, then-Captain Richard J. Gannon and his company were tasked with reinforcing a besieged sniper team in the city. Coming under very heavy fire, Gannon’s team found themselves subject to rocket-propelled grenades, as well as medium machine gun and small arms fire.
At one point, Captain Gannon maneuvered through enemy fire and made his way into a courtyard to search for a wounded Marine. When he entered the adjacent structure, he exchanged fire and grenades with nine enemy fighters, becoming mortally wounded in the process.
For his actions, Gannon would be posthumously promoted to Major, awarded the Silver Star and had a Marine Forward Operating Base named in his honor.
As night fell, fighting continued in the city, prompting AH-1 Cobra gunships to come out and circle the city like angry wasps, strafing enemy positions until morning.
After fourteen hours of brutal fighting, the Marines had won the day- at the cost of 25 wounded Marines and 5 who would never see home again.
On the enemy side, over 150 were killed and twenty captured.
For the victorious Marines, the brutal battle was a reminder of just how permanent the effects of war can be.
“I learned that you do not know how fragile life is until you have experienced it and seen how fast it can go,” concluded Tuttle.
Heading back towards their base after mopping up, the Marines continued their deployment- never forgetting what had taken place in a little-known place called Husaybah.
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