In the opening days of the US-led invasion of Iraq, American soldiers and Marines found themselves embattled in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. The rapid advance of coalition forces on their drive toward Baghdad left many cities with resistance fighters still intact. On the morning of 23 March 2003, a US supply convoy was ambushed in Nasiriyah. The ambush left nine soldiers dead and six soldiers captured. The remaining soldiers were rescued by elements of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines who began their assault on the southern portion of the city. The Marines took heavy casualties in their assault, with 18 killed in action after eight Amphibious Assault Vehicles were destroyed. The Marines also came under friendly-fire, when an Air National Guard A-10 strafed a convoy on the northern outskirts of the town.
Leading the fight in Nasiriyah was Marine Regimental Combat Team 1 (RCT-1). On the evening of 24 March, Marines from the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (2nd LAR) pushed into the city, capturing territory north of where the soldiers had been ambushed the day before. As they assaulted north, they were engaged with two anti-aircraft guns defending an Iraqi compound. Requesting air and tank support, the Marines were able to destroy the two guns and capture the compound. After establishing defensive positions, the Marines encountered a massive sandstorm in the city. Unbeknownst to the Marines, Iraqi reinforcements also began to enter the city.
The Iraqis were unaware of the Marines position, and quickly found themselves in an ambush. The ensuing Battle of the Coil resulted in catastrophic losses for the Iraqis. Aided by tank fire and artillery, the Marines killed over 300 Iraqi soldiers in the engagement, without suffering a single casualty. Overwhelmed by their losses, the Iraqis were forced to retreat, allowing the bulk of RCT-1 to continue their advance through the city. By 27 March, most of the city had been subdued. The Americans shifted their focus to cordon-and-search operations, hunting down remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Fedayeen militia.
The Battle of Nasiriyah was costly for both Iraqi and American forces. The Iraqis lost over 430 soldiers killed in action in the battle, with another 300 wounded and 1,000 captured. The Americans lost 32 killed in action, 60 wounded, and six captured (from the ambush on the supply convoy). As a result in RCT-1’s struggle in the city, Col. Joe Dowdy was relieved of command. Most of the American POWs were later freed on 13 April 2003 (PFC Jessica Lynch was rescued on 1 April by American special operation forces). The US learned a costly lesson in Nasiriyah. While the rapid advance was critical for a swift victory, failure to clear regions and cities of fighters could prove deadly for rear echelon forces supporting the front line.