U.S. Tries to Spare Civilians in Fallujah

April 28, 2004 -- U.S. troops have launched a new military plan in the Iraqi city of Fallujah that would target insurgents without staging an all-out attack on the city.

A series of explosions rocked Fallujah today and gunfire erupted in a new round of fighting. Today's battles follow a thunderous attack launched Tuesday night by American planes and artillery on at least two positions believed to be held by Sunni insurgents in the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

A senior military official told ABCNEWS before the bombing started that the military would "soon" begin a "low-key campaign to reduce the opposition." The official said the plan was for "night operations" using precision-guided munitions, AC-130 gunships and snipers.

"We'll respond to cease-fire violations at the time and place of our choosing," the official said.

Psychological Warfare

This military plan also involves psychological operations. Just before the bombing began Tuesday night, there were two broadcasts in Arabic — one apparently aimed at spooking the insurgents, the other possibly meant to help civilians.

Before the shelling began Tuesday, U.S. aircraft dropped white leaflets written in Arabic over Fallujah, calling on insurgents to give up.

"Surrender, you are surrounded," the leaflets said. "If you are a terrorist, beware, because your last day was yesterday. In order to spare your life end your actions and surrender to coalition forces now. We are coming to arrest you."

TV network pool reporter Karl Penhaul, on assignment in Fallujah, provided a translation of the messages he heard for a number of U.S. media outlets. News operations are pooling their resources due to the continuing danger they face on the ground.

"One of the messages earlier was calling on the insurgents to come out and fight and then there was a tape recording of laughing," Penhaul said.

"This later tape recording we heard being played," said Penhaul, "could have been a warning to the civilian population that coalition activity may be imminent."

Civilian Collateral Damage

The bombing began 20 minutes later. There is still no word on how many insurgents may have been killed — or civilians. Members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi governing council have expressed outrage and concern for civilians who may get caught in crossfire in the fighting at Fallujah.

For the insurgents, civilian casualties may be part of the plan.

"That is the insurgents' explicit tactic," said Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington. "Try to draw civilians into the process and to try to either prevent the United States from responding or ultimately to drum up support for the insurgents' cause against the United States by having innocents caught in the middle."

The Pentagon is well aware that whatever actions are taken in Fallujah can have serious consequences.

"Our forces are trying to balance efforts to solve these situation peacefully by working at the same time not tolerating violence against the coalition or against innocent Iraqis," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Commanders are determined to take this slowly. As one senior official told ABCNEWS, "We don't want to turn this into the Alamo."

An Orange, Smoke-filled Sky

Tuesday night's strikes destroyed homes and sent plumes of smoke and orange flames into the skies over the city. An AC-130 gunship unleash a barrage of fire that included shells from a 105mm howitzer against insurgent targets.

An orange glow from the onslaught hovered over Fallujah as gunfire and explosions were heard in city for almost two hours. During the lull in battle today, several families were seen fleeing Fallujah on the city's main road.

When skirmishes began again today, gunfire and mortar blasts could be heard for more than an hour from southwestern Fallujah in the afternoon as three shook the area.

The battles in Fallujah fighting come at the end of a truce in which Marines outside of the city promised not to assault Fallujah if insurgent gunmen gave up their weapons. U.S. commanders had said that insurgents had only given up rusty or unusable weapons.

Still, U.S. officials may not have given up on the possibility of a cease-fire. According to U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the skirmishes so far are not the all-out assault threatened if insurgents do not give up.

"We continue to talk to the leadership in Fallujah," Kimmitt said on Good Morning America. "The marines believe they're still making progress in the talks. And everyone is hoping that we can resolve this in a peaceful manner." Reported by ABCNEWS' Martha Raddatz in Washington, D.C. and David Wright in Iraq.