On 2 August 1990 the might of the Iraqi army stormed across the desert, driving headlong towards their small Arab neighbor’s capital of Kuwait City. The Iraqi government had complained of slant oil drilling into Iraqi oil fields by the Kuwaiti’s and to recoup the alleged losses declared war on the small oil rich nation. Within two short days resistance had ceased and the Iraqi’s had complete control over Kuwait. The Iraqi government quickly declared that Kuwait was the country’s 19th province. Fear of further Iraqi escalation into Saudi Arabia prompted the United States to launch Operation Desert Shield. The operation saw an influx of American troops deployed to Saudi Arabia to defend the nation against an Iraqi invasion. With the buildup of American troops in Saudi Arabia, a multinational coalition was formed to prepare for offensive operations against the Iraqi regime and to retake Kuwait.
By January 1991 the coalition had grown to include most NATO nations as well as a significant portion of the Arab states of the Middle East. To prepare for a ground offensive against the heavily entrenched Iraqi military, the coalition commenced Operation Desert Storm on 17 January 1991. The air campaign targeted ground vehicles along the Saudi-Kuwait-Iraq border striking Iraqi infrastructure in the capital of Baghdad. The ground campaign was planned with Marines and the Arab nations on the Kuwaiti border to push north against the Iraqi forces in that region. On the Iraqi border, American-British-French forces were to sweep north into the desolate Iraqi desert and then hook towards Kuwait sweeping up the defending Iraqi division in that region.
The ground campaign began on 24 February 1991, following over a month of heavy air bombardment. Coalition forces quickly overwhelmed their Iraqi counterparts. The equipment gap was enormous between the American armor forces and their Iraqi counterparts. Updated with the newest global positioning systems as well as thermal sights to see through the dust storms, the American’s outclassed the Iraqi armor and in engagements like that of 73 Easting and the Battle of Medina Ridge overwhelming American firepower triumphed. Within 100 hours of ground fighting the Iraqi’s had been pushed out of Kuwait and were on the defensive. Allied air strikes continued against the retreating Iraqi forces, and following the media attention given to the “Highway of Death,” airstrikes ceased and the remaining Iraqi forces were able to escape back into Iraq unscathed.
The victory in Operation Desert Storm for the Allied forces was a testament to the lessons learned by American military in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Victory was achieved swiftly, and for the Allied forces the casualties were remarkably low. The victory did not end the regime of Saddam Hussein, and the years that followed the war saw American troops deployed to Kuwait to deter a renewed Iraqi aggression. Americans would return to war with Iraq 12 years later under the Presidency of George W. Bush, the son of President Bush who oversaw the First Gulf War. The campaign of Operation Iraqi Freedom would not be as swift as the previous decade’s conflict, and today the consequences of that invasion still resonate in the region.
Look for more information regarding the history of Operation Desert Storm in the upcoming Strategy & Tactics issue #294 with the article “US Marine Corps Intelligence Operations in Desert Storm & Desert Shield” and join the conversation on Facebook!