The Brutal 2004 Siege of Fallujah

After weeks of preparation, the U.S. launches a full-scale assault to take back Fallujah. TIME follows one platoon as it carries out the most dangerous operation since the beginning of the war

  • Share
  • Read Later

"We're not going to die!" yells Staff Sergeant David Bellavia as his rattled platoon of soldiers takes cover from machine-gun fire in the streets of Fallujah. The platoon has been ordered to hunt down and kill a group of insurgents hiding somewhere in a block of 12 darkened houses. It is 1:45 a.m., and the soldiers have been running from fire fight to fire fight for 48 hours straight with no sleep, fueled only by the modest pickings from their ration packs. As they searched through nine of the houses on the block, the soldiers turned up nothing. When they trudged into the 10th house, though, a trap was sprung: the insurgents had lured them in and then opened fire, forcing Bellavia's men to scramble out of the house as shards of glass peppered them and bullets ricocheted off the gates of the courtyard. Bellavia yelled for a Bradley armored fighting vehicle to get "up here now!" The Bradley drew along the gate and poured 25-mm-cannon and M-240 machine-gun fire into the house, blasting a shower of concrete chips and luminescent sparks.

Bellavia, a wiry 29-year-old who resembles Sean Penn, is pacing the street, preparing to go back in. Bellavia's bluster on the battlefield contrasts with his refinement off it. During lulls in the fighting, he could discuss the Renaissance and East European politics. "Get on me now," he says, ordering his squad to close in. There is little movement. He asks who has more ammunition. Two soldiers stand up and join him in the street. "Here we go, Charlie's Angels," Bellavia says. "You don't move from my goddam wing. You stay on my right shoulder. You stay on my left shoulder. Hooah?" The men nod. "I wanna go in there and go after 'em."

Reaching the barred window near the front door, Bellavia tells two soldiers to perch by the house corner and watch for insurgents trying to leap out the side window. He looks at Staff Sergeant Scott Lawson and says, "You're f______ coming. Give suppressive fire at 45 degrees." Bellavia and Lawson step nervously into the house. From the living room, Bellavia rounds the corner into the hallway. The insurgents are still alive. Their AK-47s fire. Bellavia fires back, killing them both. "Two f_____s down," he says.

Lawson stays downstairs while Bellavia scours the first floor for more insurgents. A string of rapid-fire single shots ring out. Then silence. Then a low, pained moaning. The two soldiers waiting in the courtyard call out to Bellavia, "Hey, Sergeant Bell," but get no response. "Sergeant Bell is not answering," a message is shouted back to the platoon members across the street. "We need more guys." The platoon's other staff sergeant, Colin Fitts, 26, steps up. "Let's go," he says.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5
  7. 6