FALLOUJA, Iraq — Although the ferocity of insurgents is generally attributed to religious fervor and a hatred of America, Marines who participated in the November assault on Fallouja say many of their foes also had something else to bolster their tenacity: drugs.
The Marines say they found numerous stockpiles of needles and drugs such as adrenaline and amphetamines while battling insurgents in the fiercest urban combat waged by U.S. forces since the Vietnam War.
In some homes used by insurgents, crack pipes were found, the Marines say.
Senior U.S. military officials in Iraq said that some of the drug caches discovered during the Fallouja offensive had an estimated street value of several thousand dollars.
Top military officials consider the discoveries to be evidence not just of drug use among insurgents, but also of smuggling operations that they say the Sunni Muslim rebels in Fallouja may have been using to finance the insurgency.
"They are just as likely to be indications of drug smuggling as insurgents being doped up to provide stamina or have the courage to fight and die," a senior military official in Baghdad said.
Officers in Iraq say soldiers and Marines found similar evidence of drug use among Shiite Muslim militiamen during April and August uprisings in Najaf.
The conduct of many of the insurgents during the fighting in Fallouja suggested that they had ingested drugs that enabled them to continue fighting even after being severely wounded, Marines and Navy medical corpsmen say.
"One guy described it as like watching the 'Night of the Living Dead,' " corpsman Peter Melady said. "People who should have been dead were still alive."
Marines say the information prompted them to change their strategy.
"On the second day of the fight, word came down to focus on head shots, that body shots were not good enough," said 1st Lt. Tim Strabbing, a platoon leader with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, one of the lead units in the assault to oust the insurgents. The battalion, known as the Thundering Third, suffered 23 dead and 300 wounded.
Strabbing said his platoon found five locations with stockpiles of needles and adrenaline. "My guys put five [machine gun] rounds into a guy who just stood there and took it and then took off running," he said.
Stimulants enable the body to continue functioning despite mortal wounds, forestalling, although not preventing, death, medical experts say.
Many combat veterans recall watching insurgents in Fallouja who had been shot at close range return fire and hurl grenades at Marines who stormed their strongholds.
"We actually shot four or five guys multiple times and they got up and moved across the room," said corpsman Quinton Brown, who had accompanied a front-line platoon to treat wounded Marines.
"It reminded me of the stories you hear about people on PCP who just keep going," 1st Lt. Cosmo Calvin said. "I think it's safe to say that nearly 100% were doped up on this stuff."
Second Lt. Adam Mathes said the fighting tempo of the insurgents seemed to suggest drug use: hyper-energy in the morning and early afternoon, possibly after a fix, and then less energy as the day wore on.
"When you see a house land on somebody and they're still kicking, you know something is wrong," he said.
Times staff writer Mark Mazzetti in Washington contributed to this report.