A general view of the al-Hadra al-Muhammadiyah mosque in Fallujah, Iraq, Monday, June 27, 2016. Thick clouds of black smoke billowed over the Julan neighborhood in northwest Fallujah Monday as dozens of homes continued to burn a day after the city was declared “fully liberated” from the Islamic State group. Iraqi special forces Lt. Gen. Abdel Wahab al-Saadi who led the operation to retake the city, said that IS militants torched hundreds of houses in Fallujah's north and west as they fled Sunday, just as the fighters did in many of the city's other neighborhoods over the course of the operation.(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
The American-backed Iraqi effort to oust Islamic State militants from their stronghold in Fallujah turned out to be far easier than many U.S. officials initially feared.
"Once they got through the hard-candy shell and into the chewy center, things went much more quickly," Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said Monday. "It was really a heavy fight along the front line. But once they penetrated that, it seemed to go very quickly."
"It was really a heavy fight along the front line. But once they penetrated that, it seemed to go very quickly," Davis said.
The five-week operation officially ended Sunday when top Iraqi commanders declared the city to be "fully liberated" from ISIS the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Retaking Fallujah was not the grinding block-by-block street fight that the Iraqis faced in Ramadi last year, an operation which took almost four months to complete. Yet by comparison, the Iraqi operation in Fallujah took far longer than a similar battle the U.S. Marines fought there in November 2004, known as Operation Phantom Fury, when American U.S. military officials declared the city cleared after nine days.
The Iraqi army’s primary offensive in Fallujah came from the south and the Iraqi military installation once known to Americans as Camp Fallujah. And the The Iraqi’s victory came despite relatively limited support from the U.S. forces military. While the U.S launched more than 100 air strikes in support of Iraqi ground troops forces, the Americans did not provide attack helicopters or ground-level combat advisers, an offer which the U.S. has repeatedly offered but the Iraqis have repeatedly declined.
For months, U.S. military officials had urged the Iraqi government to focus on Mosul, the ISIS stronghold in northern Iraq. But the Iraqis shifted their there attention to Fallujah this spring after a spate of terrorist attacks in Baghdad that many blamed on the ISIS presence in the city just 40 miles west of the capital.
VThe victory in Fallujah highlights the progress of the Iraqis' progress forces, said British Maj. Gen. Doug Chalmers, a deputy commander with the American-led coalition effort known as Operation Inherent Resolve.
"The Iraqi security forces have learned how to deal with some of these [ISIS] obstacles and how they fight. They have adapted as well," Chalmers told reporters last week on June 23. And, he added, "I think the confidence of those involved was better." Chalmers said.
Fallujah was the ISIS’s last major ISIS stronghold in Iraq’s al Anbar Province. It Fallujah was a key staging ground for ISIS's car-bomb attacks on Iraq's capital, making the victory uniquely important for the Baghdad government’s effort to protect itself capital.
"It was the last significant piece of territory with proximity to Baghdad," Davis said.
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.