NEAR FALLUJAH, Iraq – As U.S. forces prepared for what is expected to be the biggest Marine-led urban assault since Vietnam (search), U.S. commanders pumped up troop spirits Sunday, saying they were no different from the storied heroes of Iwo Jima and Korea.
Standing before some 2,500 Marines who stood or kneeled at his feet, Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, the commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, told them that they would be at the front of the charge.
"This is America's fight," Sattler said. "What we've added to it is our Iraqi partners. They want to go in and liberate Fallujah. They feel this town's being held hostage by mugs, thugs, murderers and terrorists."
Two Marine battalions, along with a battalion from the Army's 1st Infantry Division, will be the lead units sent into a Fallujah attack. They will be joined by two brigades of Iraqi troops.
"God bless you, each and every one. You know what your mission is. Go out there and get it done," Sattler said.
More than 10,000 U.S. troops massed around the Sunni Muslim city are expected to take a role in the assault on Fallujah, whose green-lit minarets are visible from the U.S. base near the city.
That's well over twice the number of Americans who were involved in an April siege on Fallujah. That assault lasted for three weeks, until Marines were forced to pull back amid Iraqi outcry over the hundreds of casualties. Sunni insurgents then tightened their hold.
Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, the top enlisted Marine in Iraq (news - web sites), told troops Sunday the coming battle of Fallujah would be "no different" than the historic fights at Inchon in Korea, the flag-raising victory at Iwo Jima, or the bloody assault to remove North Vietnamese troops who occupied the ancient citadel of Hue in the 1968 Tet Offensive.
"You're all in the process of making history," Kent boomed in a clarion voice. "This is another Hue city in the making. I have no doubt, if we do get the word, that each and every one of you is going to do what you have always done — kick some butt."
Marine battalion commander Lt. Col. Mike Ramos said many of the young fighters would be dashing into battle for the first time. In the barracks, Marines could be seen packing up gear, strapping anti-tank missile tubes to their packs. They would also be carrying gas masks in case of chemical weapons, a threat Ramos deemed unlikely.
"They're sharpening their K-Bar fighting knives; they're cleaning their weapons for the last time; they've fueled their vehicles and they've rehearsed the plan," said Ramos, 41, of Dallas.
Ramos predicted that "freedom and democracy" would prevail in Fallujah within days.
"Make no mistake about it, we'll hand this city back to the Iraqi people," he said. "I think it will be rapid."
During the fight, rules of engagement allow U.S. troops to shoot and kill anyone carrying a weapon or driving in Fallujah, a move aimed at allowing U.S. troops to fire on car bombers, Ramos said. Military age males trying to leave the city will be captured or turned back.
"If I see someone who looks like a martyr, driving at high speed toward my unit, I'll send him to Allah before he gets close," Ramos said.
Sattler reminded the troops that the assault would be a joint U.S.-Iraqi effort. The fledgling Iraqi military, which has been under intense U.S. training, needs to be led by example into the fight against Fallujah, he said.
"This is a whole can of whoop-butt all combined here," Kent said, surveying the Marines surrounding him.
A pumped-up crowd shouted a deafening "Hoo-rah" in response.