Interview with Ross Caputi, Eye-Witness Combatant in Operation Phantom Fury, the November, 2004 Assault on Fallujah, Iraq
Mac: I’m interviewing Ross Caputi, who was in the Marine Corps for three years and deployed in Iraq from June 2004 until January 2005. He saw action inside Fallujah and we’re discussing that right now.
Ross: Well, I was the company commander’s radio operator (1st Battalion 8th Marines Alpha Company), so I wasn’t near the guys kicking in doors, but that entire assault was basically a three week long firefight.
Mac: Were you going house to house, door to door?
Mac: Can you describe some of the action, who you were fighting against, and what you saw?
Ross: OK, so, on the very first day, November 7 (2004), the air assault was still going on and they loaded my unit up into trucks and then took us to the outskirts of the city, and as we’re passing through the desert from Camp Fallujah to the outskirts of Fallujah proper, I did see a good number of women and children wandering into the desert, and as we were sitting on the outskirts of the city, probably about for a day, I did see the White Phosphorus. I saw us drop it from the sky.
t’s difficult to say where it landed, whether it landed on the city or on the outskirts of the city. I think that’s irrelevant because they knew perfectly well that civilians were living in the city and in the outskirts of the city, so either way, I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.
And the following day, November 8, they trucked us into the city on AAV‘s and they dropped us off at what we were calling the Mayor’s Complex – I don’t know if the mayor used to actually work in that building or not – and basically from that part on we started a two or three week push from that point in the city, I think south, just going one building at a time, one house at a time, just going through normal people’s houses.
It was very clear that people had lived in there just days prior; fridges were still full of food; there were still family photos up on the wall, and all their possessions were still in the house – they brought very little with them. And on the part of the Marines I was with, there was quite a bit of looting going on. There was a certain hysteria. Basically they believed that every person in the city was a pure, evil terrorist bent on some irrational hatred against America, with very little concern for the civilians that were involved.
Mac: Everyone was considered a terrorist, civilians and anyone with a weapon?
Ross: Well, anyone in the city, we thought, because we told them to go live out in the desert because we were such nice people, that we were doing this for them, and if they chose to ignore that and stay in the city, then that’s because they wanted to fight against us, so they were fair targets.
That’s the thinking. And that’s partly because that’s exactly what the chain of command told them, that there were 2000 hardcore international Jihadists inside the city; they were mostly foreign fighters, and that they were somehow controlling the city against the will of the civilians who lived there, and al-Zarqawi was orchestrating this whole thing [the military also claimed to be attacking the safehouses of “al-Qaeda in Iraq” led by the mysterious Jordanian, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom, some declared, had established Fallujah as his operational base – no solid proof was ever found of this – Mac], so there’s a lot of misinformation going on, and people believed that, and with the pressure because of the tense situation, the combat, the violence and everything else, this created a kind of hysteria, and, as [the push on] the city went on, atrocities started to happen in greater frequency and greater severity.
Civilians were killed; people were shot in the street. Marines, not all of them, but some Marines started stealing form the pockets of the dead resistance fighters, mutilating dead bodies. Entire sections of the city were bulldozed. I know at one point I saw a house was collapsed on top of two resistance fighters and a little boy. This was kind of just how it went on for about three weeks, and then when they trucked us out of the city, every house that I saw, if not totally demolished and leveled to the ground, had severe, severe damage to it.
Mac: What percentage of the city was destroyed would you say?
Ross: It’s hard to say because I didn’t see the entire city. My unit was just in this one section that was our area of operation, and of that section, every house had severe damage to it, severe structural damage.
Mac: So it was kind of like a turkey shoot.
Ross: Yeah, basically, I mean we used everything from air support, from 2000 lb bombs, to Hellfire missiles. On the ground we used tanks, bulldozers; we used C-4 to demolish houses; we used Mark-19 Grenade-launchers to demolish houses. We just basically used everything.
Mac: Wow! All ordnance used.
Ross: They say Depleted Uranium was used too. I certainly believe it’s possible, but being an infantry man, we never handled Depleted Uranium, so I can’t say that I witnessed that with my own two eyes.
Mac: Wasn’t that normally used on their artillery shells anyway?
Ross: I think it’s used on artillery rounds and tank rounds, but I’m not an artillery guy or a tank guy.
Mac: Did you see or hear snipers in action? I heard there were a lot of snipers shooting people.
Ross: Well, I heard that there was a huge problem with this during the first assault [in April] on the city where snipers were just being really indiscriminate and were just shooting at anyone who was out in the street. During the second assault this was less of a problem because the people who were in the city were hiding in their houses. To my knowledge, they weren’t shooting civilians to the extent they were in the first assault.
Mac: I did read a report of Iraqis stepping out of their houses and being shot though, so there was still some of that going on I imagine.
Ross: You know, I had friends who were snipers. They didn’t tell me anything about that. I didn’t directly witness that. From the guys I was with I do know of one incident. There was a civilian out in the street, he had something in his hands and somebody yelled, “He’s got something in his hands!” and somebody shot him. And that’s the only incident I know of that I can testify to 100% that somebody was shot dead in the street.