Operation Market Sweep
|Operation Market Sweep|
|Part of the Iraq War|
Part of the weapons cache captured in Market Sweep
|United States||Iraqi insurgency|
|Casualties and losses|
During the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, or Iraq War, Operation Market Sweep was a successful raid into the downtown Fallujah arms market by troops from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division on 13 January 2004.
Numerous attempts had been made by coalition forces prior to Market Sweep, but none had yielded desirable results. This operation reportedly captured more than 100 rifles, two heavy machine guns, 6,500 round of ammunition, 18 rockets, 244 grenades, 150 mortars and various explosive devices (to include 17 improvised explosive devices), and more than 60 suspects. The raid was recounted in an Army News Service article:
“It was difficult (during previous operations) to approach the market. It has many narrow alleys and corridors,” said Maj. Steve Sears, 3rd Brigade Fire Support Officer. “As we approached, oftentimes (the arms dealers) would receive word that we were coming, lock up their shops and leave.” Nearly an entire battalion of troops approached the market by zigzagging through the streets, ensuring not to reveal the area in which they were going to stop. They then sealed off two key bridges leading to the market, so that no one could enter or flee. Finally, a group of paratroopers, undetected by the black market dealers, entered the market area and conducted precision searches of several different stores. Due to superior intelligence gathering, the paratroopers were aware of several predetermined stores that were selling a variety of illegal weapons and materials. With this intelligence, the troops captured dealers and confiscated many weapons.
Operation Market Sweep is also recounted in the 2005 book by journalist Mike Tucker, Among Warriors in Iraq: True Grit, Special Ops, and Raiding in Mosul and Fallujah.
Fallujah weapons market history
The first attempt to shut down the Fallujah weapons market was a large raid by the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment. The raid met with little success due to the arms dealers' ability to slip back into the local populace at the first sign of coalition activity. After that initial raid by the 3d ACR, the market was left alone to run almost unimpeded by U.S. soldiers because of (1) the difficulty of carrying out any operation on the market, and (2) the constant change of the units in control of Fallujah.
The night before [Operation Market Sweep], over a coffee at battalion ops center, Scout of the Far Afghan Hills had told me, "Every unit in Fallujah has planned a major operation to crush the weapons market, planned it to op order stage, then backed off."
Despite the lack of any official and large scale operation against the market, there was an exception to the army's lack of will to take down the market. A tactical PSYOP team that remained in Fallujah even as the city was passed around to different controlling units periodically rounded up whoever had sufficient autonomy to conduct operations without direct approval of higher command and then conducted a small scale raid on the market. After a 8 June 2003 raid supported by a security fireteam from the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division had led to the death an Iraqi arms dealer, the following report of the incident appeared to show that the team's work might have been having some effect:
The incident enraged merchants in the bazaar. They had grown accustomed - even under Saddam's rule - to smuggling and selling weapons with impunity. "We never saw a policeman in here before. Now the Americans send in their soldiers," said Hassan Ali Azobayi, a butcher.
Mohammed Dulaimi, a self-described engineer, led a crowd in chants of "vengeance" and "We want Saddam." When a German reporter arrived, they chanted, "Hitler, Hitler." One protester displayed a small bullet and insisted it was uranium.
"You will see. We will avenge this killing. For every Iraqi dead, an American must die," said Dulaimi.Some of the inhabitants of Fallujah's Old Cinema Street said that today's ambush was a response to the market killing. "We don't accept that the Americans roam our streets," declared Khalaf Jumeili, who said he was an Islamic scholar.
This particular raid was also recounted by a member of the PSYOP team:
Pursuing the dealers into the markets narrow alleys a sudden burst of M-16 fire drops one as he tries to run over a US troop coming up on the side of his truck. Pulling the Iraqi from his truck I administered medical aid to the downed Iraqi, but he was too far gone. In the mean time crowds of one-hundred each gathered about 75 meters down each of the four streets whose intersection we were now trapped in. Waiting for the QRF rescue gave the Iraqi’s time to advance on our position from the roofs above us.
Seeing the lime green pineapple shape as it came barreling down at me was the most surreal experience of my life. I almost laughed at the absurdity of it, “this can’t be happening” I thought with a smirk. The grenade bounced off my leg and rolled in one direction as I leapt the other. “Grenade!” A 3d ID soldier heard the call and turning to jump for cover he spotted a grenade in that direction. He reverses his direction to see yet another grenade. Finally he just hits the ground where he stood. Glued to the ground for cover I awaited the blast, but it never came. Duds. If their lack of skill doesn’t defeat them, their outdated and malfunctioning weapons will. Covered in Iraqi blood I was uninjured, neither was any other US soldier.Speeding out of the city that day the normal cheers of children seemed misplaced. One block over we had taken grenades and killed one of their townfolk, this block they cheer us. If the next street they threw rocks (as they sometimes do) it would have topped the day. Here stands a kid running to the side of the street giving me the thumbs up while I am soaked in Iraqi blood. From block to block your situation in this city can change so much.
We were having trouble convincing the command that this place needed to be searched thoroughly. Unfortunately, the Brigade leadership at the time thought that what we had planned was too aggressive and scrapped the idea. Since the infantry and scouts weren’t authorized, I got with our PSYOPS team and we planned a joint raid on the weapons market. We came in front different approaches after dismounting about a mile away and marched through alleys and backways so that no spotters could identify us. It worked. As we approached the market, we picked up our pace and sure enough the bad guys were still there. We caught them by surprise. We chased them down, but couldn’t catch any of them in the crowded market. No shots were fired, either, though someone in the crowd did toss a grenade (probably a flash/bang) which didn’t hit or injure anyone. We did, however, capture hundreds of blasting caps, thousands of rounds, explosives, and weapons. We almost didn’t have room for it all. If only the Brigade had agreed to send in the infantry or scouts with us, we’d have been so much more successful. This operation only had about 10 soldiers on it. It’s an operation I dubbed “Spooky Voodoolicious” after both our callsigns.
However, beyond the risk of conducting these undermanned raids, nothing on such a small scale could net more than a handful of dealers and weapons. In September 2003, Fallujah was turned over to the 82nd Airborne who would finally, after nine months of U.S. presence in Fallujah, carried out the large-scale Operation Market Sweep on 13 January 2004.
- ‘Op Market Sweep’ captures Fallujah arms dealers
- Mike Tucker Among Warriors in Iraq" (2005), p. 209
- "American troops increasingly are under fire in Iraq" The Washington Post. Jun 10, 2003.
- Soldier's Perspective Blog
- Globalsecurity.org, Global Security Operation Market Sweep