Conflict & Dates:
The Battle of Najaf was fought March 24-April 4, 2003, during the opening stages of the Iraq War (2003-).
Armies & Commanders:
- General William S. Wallace
- Major General Buford Blount
- Major General David Petraeus
- 3rd Infantry Division, 101st Airborne Division, 1st Armored Division
- Elements of the Republican Guard, Fedayeen Saddam, Iraqi Army, and Baath Party militia
Battle of Najaf Overview:
Driving through Iraq in late March 2003, American forces approached the city of Najaf. Located on the highways running north to Karbala and Baghdad, Najaf occupied a strategic position along the United States' intended supply lines. Rather than bypass the city and continue the advance as had been done at Nasiriyah and Samawah, the 3rd Infantry Division elected to isolate the city to ensure that Iraqi forces there could not mount attacks against supply convoys. This isolation was to be accomplished through the capture of two bridges over the Euphrates River north and south of Najaf.
Cutting Off Najaf:
Capture of the northern bridge at Al Kifl, dubbed Objective Jenkins, was assigned to Colonel Will Grimsley's 1st Brigade Combat Team (1st BCT), while securing the southern bridge at Abu Sukhayr, Objective Floyd, was given to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment (3/7 Cav). Once the bridge at Floyd was secured, the 3/7 Cav would cross and advance north to block entry into the town from the east. Planning for the attack, Grimsley was forced to assign the mission to Captain Charles Branson and the brigade's air defense battery as 1st BCT was strung out along a wide front.
Equipped with M6 Bradley fighting vehicles equipped with the Linebacker missile system, Branson's men moved out around 2:00 AM on March 25. To support Branson's advance, Lieutenant Colonel Marcone's Task Force 3, 69th Armored Regiment was detailed as a rapid reaction force if the attack bogged down. Encountering heavy resistance from Iraqi paramilitary forces, Branson's men fought through the night before requesting assistance around dawn. To assist, Grimsley dispatched B Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment (B Co. 3/7 Inf) from Marcone's command.
Arriving on the scene thirty minutes later, Marcone's men took over the fight as the air defense troops were shifted to guard the flanks. Pushing toward the bridge, infantry from B Co. 3/7 Inf cleared the building, while the armor moved forward. Around 11:00 AM, three tanks moved onto the bridge and were nearly across when Iraqi engineers attempted to demolish the span. While the explosives detonated, they failed to drop the bridge, though American commanders believed the three tanks were trapped on the far bank. Assessing the damaged bridge, scouts were able to drive a HMMWV across safely.
Arriving on the scene, Marcone immediately inspected the bridge. Determining that it could support a tank, he waved his personal M1A1 Abrams forward. Though the bridge bowed, it held. Leading American forces across the span, Marcone and his men secured the far bank and began expanding the bridgehead. Establishing a strongpoint, American forces beat off repeated Iraqi counterattacks through the evening of March 26. To the south, 3/7 Cav moved up from As Samawah and commenced their attack on Objective Floyd around 6:00 AM on March 25.
Battling through a sandstorm, American troops were forced to rely on thermal imaging during the advance. Taking the bridge at 10:43 AM, they found that it was not wired for demolition. Crossing, Troops A and B moved north to establish blocking positions, while Troop C remained to hold the bridge. As the two troops fought north, they encountered hundreds of Iraqi fighters in various vehicles. These attacks were repulsed, though the fighting was at close quarters due to the sandstorm. To the south, Troop C came under heavy attack near the bridge but was able to hold.
As the sandstorm precluded the use of helicopters for air support, aircraft that could fly above the sand used GPS-guided munitions to aid the men on the ground. In the fighting east of Najaf, Troop B was ambushed losing two tanks. Though the bridges were secured, American forces on the east bank of the river were under heavy attack for most of March 26. After nightfall, the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment crossed the river and attacked south from Objective Jenkins in an effort to link up and relieve the 3/7 Cav. This was accomplished and the 3/7 Cav withdrew on the 27th.
With the city surrounded, the situation in Najaf began to deteriorate as the Fedayeen Saddam militia and Baath Party officials terrorized the civilian population. On March 28, the 101st Airborne Division along with a battalion from the 1st Armored Division relieved the 3rd Infantry Division around Najaf. Attacking the next day, they drove Iraqi forces from an agricultural college on the southern side of Najaf and secured the city's airport. Heavy fighting resumed on March 31, when the 101st conducted a reconnaissance-in-force near the Imam Ali Mosque. Battling for four hours, American forces utilized heavy doses of air support to neutralize the enemy.
The next day, troops attacked and cleared the eastern and southwestern sections of the city, while elements of the 70th Armored Regiment conducted a "Thunder Run" through Najaf with a column of tanks. On April 2, several coordinated assaults were launched around Najaf against Fedayeen Saddam strong points. By April 4, the city was deemed to be cleared and fully under American control.
The fighting around Najaf cost the Iraqis 590-780 killed, while American forces suffered only 4. An important political and strategic victory, the capture of Najaf secured Coalition supply lines as troops pushed on to Baghdad and liberated a largely Shiite city. The tactics developed and employed around Najaf became the formula by which Coalition troops would secure other cities in Iraq.