Gulf War

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This is a major second-level article for numerous articles about the Wars of Iraq in the 1990-1991 period, following the invasion of Kuwait. It has three major subarticles, Operation DESERT SHIELD dealing with the Iraqi invasion and Coalition buildup, Operation DESERT STORM for the air offensive, and Operation DESERT SABRE for the ground combat phase. There are sections on the Iraqi and Coalition forces. See Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, Operation NORTHERN WATCH and Operation PROVIDE COMFORT for postwar operations, and Iraq War for the operations beginning in 2003.

Formally beginning with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, and ending with the cease-fire on 6 April 1991, the Gulf War was preceded by the Iran-Iraq War, with tensions following that conflict's end in 1988, and followed by new tensions culminating with the U.S.-led Iraq War in 2003. It is not definitively known if Saddam deliberately ended the Iran-Iraq war to prepare for the Gulf War.

The Gulf War involved the occupation of Kuwait and Kuwaiti resistance, the defense of Saudi Arabia by a growing coalition led by the United States of America, an intensive air campaign reducing Iraq's military, and a ground campaign that ejected the Iraqis and led to a cease-fire. Following the cease-fire was a period of interactions with a truculent Iraq, ensuring the elimination of its weapons of mass destruction and enforcing "no fly zones" in the North and South of Iraq. Eventually, Iraq was invaded in the 2003 Iraq War, with the disarming of the regular Iraqi military, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's government, and an open-ended occupation and attempts at nation-building.

The war was notable for the extremely high level of technology used by the Coalition, with the use of SS-1 SCUD missiles as psychological weapons for attack. Coalition combat casualties were minimal, the number from fratricide and non-battle accidents comparable to those inflicted by the Iraqis. The war was also notable for not creating a clear peace, although the politics of the region prevented a replacement of the Hussein government.

Two code names were well known, and others less so:

The British and French names for their participation in the war were:

  • Opération Daguet was the French name for the conflict.
  • Operation Granby was UK name for the operations and conflict.


Leading up to the Iraqi invasion was a period of brinkmanship and diplomatic miscommunication starting not long after the end of the Iran-Iraq War.

At the time of the invasion of Kuwait, the region was the responsibility of United States Central Command, formed in 1983. Earlier, there had been a lack of focus in U.S. military command and control; the volatile Middle East had variously been parceled out to United States European Command, and a general Strike Command that was described as a contingency rather than geographic headquarters.

Even after Central Command had formed, most planning focused on blocking Soviet moves, especially a southern move to the Iranian oil fields, and then across the Zagros Mountains into Iraq. In July 1989, eight months after being named head of Central Command, H Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. rethought the fundamental problems. Eventually, he presented an alternative emphasis to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Office of the Secretary of Defense, suggesting contingency planning with Iraq as the aggressor, Schwarzkopf found that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell was an ally in rethinking the requirements.

Moving quite quickly for a large command, Schwarzkopf was able to reorient war plans and schedule the annual command post exercise (i.e., war games involving command staffs, not field deployments), INTERNAL LOOK, to address, in in the summer of 1990, an attack by Iraq. [1] Schwarzkopf said that the exercise, conducted in July 1990, had simulated intelligence about Iraq that came so close to the reality that the communications center had to stamp the INTERNAL LOOK messages with a bold EXERCISE ONLY.[2]

Hussein-Glaspie meetings

On July 25, 1990, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, met with Saddam Hussein. There are different accounts of whether Saddam was warned not to open hostilities, or if things could have been construed as the U.S. remaining neutral. Iraq had issued a transcript that suggested that the U.S. gave no strong warning. The New York Times reported that U.S. State Department issues, on receiving Glaspie's account, were unclear how strong a warning had been given, but that Administration sources said they did not want to make an issue of it at the time, because that might interfere with coalition-building. [3]

In the hearing, Representative Lee H. Hamilton, (Democrat, Indiana) asked the Ambassador if she had ever told Saddam that the U.S. would fight if Iraq invaded, and she said she did not explicitly do so. In response to Hamilton's question about his being deterred, she said: "I told him we would defend our vital interests. He complained to me for one hour about fleet movements and American neo-imperialism and militarism. He knew perfectly well what we were talking about, and it would have been absolutely wrong for me, without consulting with the President, to inform anybody of a change in our policy. Our policy was that we would defend our vital interests. It's up to the President to decide how we would do it. Saddam Hussein, who is a man who lives by the sword, believed that we were going to do it by the sword."

Specific indications of imminent invasion

On July 19, the CIA National Intelligence Daily reported "Baghdad is Threatening Effective Sanctions against UAE and Kuwait", followed on July 24 with "Iraq has adequate forces and supplies for military operations [in Kuwait]". [4]

On July 17th, two weeks prior to the invasion, a US KH-11 imagery intelligence reconnaissance satellite "passing over the previously empty desert area between Iraq and Kuwait spotted Iraqi troops assembling on the Iraqi side of the border." In the next week, imagery interpreters "identified over the next week a formidable Iraqi force that included 300 of Saddam Hussein's most modern T-72 tanks, an elite Republican Guard division, and about 35,000 Iraqi troops poised in a coil formation on Kuwait's northern border. Even more ominous, a long line of fuel trucks had joined the tail of the coil, indicating the force was prepared to move an extended distance."[5]

U.S. intelligence moved to a specific attack warning on August 1. [6] One of the indicators was satellite imagery intelligence that showed tanks and other tracked vehicles had:

  • moved off the wheeled tank transporters used to protect their tracks from wear
  • on many vehicles, changed to a new set of tracks, an exhausting, dirty job that may save one's life going into battle.

The Republican Guard, meanwhile, had moved several divisions south, on tank transporters, as well as a large amount of field bridge construction equipment for crossing obstacles.

Walter (Pat) Lang, DIA Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East, reported large numbers of Iraqi troops moving into an area in southern Iraq, where the Iraqis had a training facility but also could be using as a staging area. [7]

Along with Lang, Charles Eugene Allen, the Central Intelligence Agency national intelligence officer for warning. They had little doubt that this was an invasion force preparing to attack Kuwait. By July 23 the DIA was conducting twice-a-day briefings on the Iraqi deployments. On August 1, Allen (correctly) warned the National Security Council's staff that Iraq would invade Kuwait with 24 hours.

Considering the U.S. Response

On August 4, Schwarzkopf and his air commander, Chuck Horner, met with President George H.W. Bush, Powell, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Vice President Dan Quayle, Secretary of State James Baker, White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Brent Scowcroft and Director of Central Intelligence William Webster. Schwarzkopf described the phases of commitment:[8]

  1. immediate: U.S. "tripwire" presence of a 4,000 soldier division ready brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division, followed by Marines with somewhat heavier equipment
  2. 1-3 months: a tank-killing air assault brigade, a brigade of mechanized infantry, hundreds of aircraft on Saudi airfields, and two carrier battle groups. This was the minimum to fend off a full-scale Iraqi offense.
  3. 8-10 months (minimum): at least 6 more divisions, probably 2-3 corps headquarters, and much more air. This was the requirement to eject Iraq from Kuwait.

The attendees were surprised at the size of forces needed, and there was not yet any guarantee the Saudis would accept them. Nevertheless, the highest levels of the U.S. government heard, and apparently listened to, professional estimates of reality. Note that even the largest force mission was to eject the Iraqis and leave. No continuing large-scale presence was considered, which would later become a key factor for Saudi agreement.

The Iraqi Government and Military

Iraq's civilian, security, and military apparatus was under the strongly centralized control of Saddam Hussein and his immediate circle, many of whom came from clansmen from Tikrit, Iraq. As such, Hussein was the center of gravity of the entire Iraqi structure.

Iraq, as a result of the Iran-Iraq War, was considered to have an experienced military, generally operating under centralized Soviet doctrine. It should be remembered, however, that the Iran-Iraq War was largely a bloody stalemate. Neither side carried out effective deep operations on land or in the air. Iraq did demonstrate an ability to build very good static defensive lines, which, when attacked frontally, inflicted great numbers of Iranian casualties. It should not be forgotten, however, that the Maginot Line was capable of inflicting great numbers of German casualties, if the Germans had obliged the French assumptions by striking into that defensive line, rather than going around it. Saddam, whose opinions were decisive, did not fully understand how mobile a modern force could be, especially if it avoided static defenses and did not try to conduct an occupation of hostile territory.

Security and military organizations

Iraq security and military organization formed concentric circles around Saddam, the innermost concerned only with his security, only leaving Baghdad to escort him. Moving outwards, conventional military units, some of substantial capability, were equipped and trained proportionately to the political reliability of their leadership. In addition, there were a wide range of intelligence and secret police organizations outside these circles.

Beyond his immediate bodyguards, the circles of land units, the first two of which stayed with Saddam, were:

  1. Special Security Organization
  2. Special Republican Guard
  3. Republican Guard
  4. Regular military divisions
  5. Conscript divisions

KARI: Iraqi air defense

Iraq appeared to have a potent integrated air defense system called (KARI). For any military action against Iraq to succeed, a suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) mission was the prerequisite.

Iraqi invasion of Kuwait

air assault and armored movements

Saddam closed the borders of Iraq and Kuwait on August 9, trapping approximately 13,000 foreigners, as he continued to send reinforcements into Kuwait. Iraqi forces were estimated as 130,000 troops, 1,200 tanks, and 900 artillery pieces with chemical warfare capability. [9] In response, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 664 on 18 August 1990, demanding that Iraq allow third party nationals to depart Kuwait.

Defense of Saudi Arabia

It took negotiation at the highest levels before the Saudis agreed to have foreign troops in their country. King Fahd asked for a briefing on August 4, and agreed to the deployment on August 6.

On August 7, Operation DESERT SHIELD formally began.[10] Once there was approval, the first units that arrived were United States Air Force F-15 Eagle air superiority fighters and E-3 Sentry early warning radar and air battle command post aircraft. The Saudis themselves operated versions of both aircraft types. There appears to have been initial surprise by the Saudis on the size of the ground support organization needed just for these aircraft.

Aircraft carriers and warships capable of launching cruise missiles deployed to international waters. The first significant land forces unit was the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, the division ready brigade of which arrived on 14 August, with the full division in theater on 29 August. The 82nd was variously called a tripwire, or, more cynically, a "speed bump", as a paratroop division could not have directly fought Iraqi armored units. Until U.S. armored units, such as the 24th Infantry Division could arrive, the 82nd could only stay in light contact with Iraqi units, with carrier aircraft being the major weapon.

On August 23, before the Saudis had agreed to the full force, the Iraqi Republican Guard divisions pulled back from the Kuwait-Saudi border. This was not a move of fear, but a consolidation of forces and putting the strongest troops into a position where they could maneuver. [11]. U.S. News described this as "withdrawing". [12]

Had Saddam chosen to move immediately into Saudi Arabia, especially for a short distance, little could stop him until more forces arrived. His thinking has never really been explained.

Attempts to prevent all-out hostilities

Following the invasion, there were a number of diplomatic initiatives to find a peaceful solution, and hopes that the formation of what became a 34-nation coalition might give second thoughts to Saddam Hussein. [13]

The United Nations, in an unprecedented way, had played a crucial role throughout the eight-month international crisis, which began on 2 August 1990 when Iraq invaded, occupied and annexed its neighbour--the tiny, oil-rich State of Kuwait--calling it an "integral part" of Iraq.

After the Iraqi invasion but before Coalition combat operations began, the UN Security Council, with majority votes, adopted 15 resolutions related to the crisis, among other things: condemning the initial invasion; calling for Iraqi troop withdrawal and protection of prisoners of war, diplomas and civilians; imposing strong, mandatory, comprehensive economic sanctions against Iraq until it complied with its demands; arranging for aid to innocent victims of the conflict and countries economically affected by the embargo; and setting a deadline before authorizing the use of "all necessary means" to restore international peace and security in the area.

UNSC Resolution 665, of August 25, authorized a maritime blockade. Resolution 678, passed November 29, invokes Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which can include military action.

The deadline passed. And a seven-week war took place--waged by a coalition of troops representing 34 nationalities--to oust Iraq from Kuwait. Resolution 686, of 2 March 1991 after the cease-fire, demanded provocative overflights stop and provided the basis of no-fly operations.

Preparing for operations against Iraq

From the first deployment of foreign troops into Saudi Arabia, a variety of options were considered to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait. While some of the air planners believed, perhaps for the first time with the technology to have a real chance of following through, that they could put enough pressure on the Iraqis with air attacks alone, Schwarzkopf, Powell, and other senior commanders assumed a ground attack would be needed if diplomacy failed.

The nature of a ground offensive, however, was controversial in the U.S. military, to say nothing of the Saudis and other coalition members. At first, until the tanks of the 24th Division arrived in September 12,[14] there was much concern about the light forces of the 82nd Airborne Division even holding ground. When the XVIII Airborne Corps was present, Schwarzkopf and the planners still felt that a single corps, and not a heavy corps, really did not give a good counteroffensive option.

Eventually, the highest U.S., Saudi, and other national levels agreed a stronger force would be needed. An active defense, followed by an air offensive, was seen as the way to bring in adequate ground force.

The issue of land forces command

While all air and naval forces in CENTCOM had their own components, there was a disunity of command in land forces, with the Army regular troops under Third United States Army, and the Marines under I MEF. In the 1944 invasion of Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower elected to have an overall land forces commander, Bernard Law Montgomery, reporting to him, with the armies and army groups reporting through Montgomery.

Schwarzkopf chose to wear the "dual hats" of CENTCOM commander and land forces commander, rather than assign it to John Yeosock, ARCENT and Third United States Army commander. In addition, the I MEF (LTG Walter Boomer), a corps-sized formation including more aircraft than a comparable Army organization, deployed. There also were corps-strength Arab units.

The lack of a land forces commander, and Schwarzkopf not having the time to give it full attention, probably caused resource conflicts among the different ground forces. There was also an issue of the allocation of air support to ground troops; there was no one with the authority to settle disputes.

On 2 November, Schwarzkopf met with the Saudi leadership over the delicate question of ultimate command authority in a coalition. The compromise was that Schwarzkopf and his Saudi counterpart, Prince Khalid bin Sultan al-Saud, were to be co-equals, but the CENTCOM commander would have final authority for operational decisions.

In retrospect, it was considered inefficient for Schwarzkopf to retain the land forces command, although it may have been justified due to the political sensitivities of the Arab forces. In the Iraq War, this role was assigned to the CENTCOM Land Forces Component/Third United States Army under LTG David McKiernan, who provided intermediate command between CENTCOM, and the tactical V Corps, XVIII Airborne Corps and I MEF. Special Operations reported directly to CENTCOM.

Air campaign

The initial air attacks on Iraq were unprecedented in warfare, using large numbers of aircraft (about 4 times more than Iraq) and long-range guided missiles, using what proved to be extremely effective precision-guided munitions, to disable Iraqi command and control and the KARI air defense system, as well as the known weapons of mass destruction and long-range missile facilities. Once Iraq's ability to resist air attack was severely degraded, the air campaign changed focus to the Iraqi ground forces and their supporting services.

SCUD surprises

Iraq was known to have both imported versions of the Soviet SS-1 SCUD ballistic missile, as well as domestic clones and derivatives. The derivatives gave up already small payload for increased range, and usually with reduced accuracy. U.S. intelligence knew about most of the fixed SCUD bases, but badly underestimated the number of mobile launchers and the skill of their crews.

The concern was not so much that the SCUD was a truly dangerous weapon. It was at the level of sophistication of a World War II V-2 missile, considered to operate with adequate accuracy if it could hit something as small as a metropolitan area. Had it had a nuclear warhead, the power of the warhead could have compensated for the inaccuracy -- but the Iraqis did not have any. There was also concern that they might have chemical or biological warheads, but, again, while they had a WMD development program, they had not worked out the details of weaponizing. As one example, while a ton of nerve agent in a warhead is frightening, the reality is that it cannot simply be burst with an explosive charge and expected to have a tactical effect. If for no other reason, nerve agents are inflammable and a burster charge may simply cause them to burn harmlessly.

Given that the SCUD family were merely psychological weapons that still could cause casualties, when Iraq started shooting SCUDs at Israel, there was intense Israeli political reaction. At first, the Israelis demanded the right to go after the launchers, but there was very real concern that the overt participation of Israel could split off the Arab members of the Coalition.

Planning the ground offensive into Kuwait and Iraq

Sometime in late October, although kept quiet not to affect the November Congressional elections, Powell's request, including two corps and doubling Navy and Marine air, was approved. [15] With the two Army corps, new operational concepts became practical. Even with limited forces, the goal was to thread through gaps, perhaps gaps blown by firepower and engineers, in the Iraqi defenses, or perhaps limited bypass with heliborne or amphibious forces.

Real desert logistics base for 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)

The "Jedi Knights", however, planned an operation in which a corps would make one of the longest flanking maneuvers in military history, hitting into the Iraqi rear lines of the Kuwait Theater of Operations from the far west, essentially empty desert. GPS was one of the enabling technologies here, to allow closely synchronized maneuver without roads.

Preparation for the "Left Hook"

The difficulties even before combat cannot be overemphasized: a force of tens of thousands of troops and vehicles. XVIII Corps had to move without being detected by the Iraqis and with new logistical support areas being built in front of the XVIII Corps' planned path.

  1. West through the rear areas of troops in combat positions, without interfering with their supply lines and other communications lines
  2. West and north into an empty area of Iraq, again remaining undiscovered.
Magic decoy 101st Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps command post

One of GEN Schwarzkopf's hobbies is stage magic. For the "left hook" to succeed, Schwarzkopf had to carry out the basic principle of magic: misdirection: He had to make the Iraqis see what he wanted them to see (the Pan-Arab forces, the Marines at sea and to the south of Kuwait, and VII Corps), without them noticing the hidden movement. In this case, he wanted the Iraqis see the threat of the frontal attack they expected, to be delivered by the Arab forces and the Marine forces on land. The Iraqis were also very aware that a U.S. Marine expeditionary brigade was at sea, and could land on the Kuwaiti coast, or Iraqi coastal areas such as the Faw Peninsula.

Cease-fire and dispositions

While destroying the Republican Guard had been an objective, political considerations picked an arbitrary time for a cease fire, after 100 hours of ground combat. The political considerations were affected by many factors, including U.S. domestic public opinion about casualties on both sides, and Arab countries that still wanted Iraq to remain as a balance to Iran.

While CENTCOM did extensive operational planning before the invasion of Kuwait, and there certainly were discussions of the Iraqi problem at White House level. Gordon Brown, CENTCOM’s chief foreign-policy advisor admitted, "We never did have a plan to terminate the war.[16]

Deciding when to stop

Schwarzkopf, according to Gordon and Trainor, recognized that it might be necessary to subordinate the destruction of the RG to other objectives. Among considerations in Washington were "protecting the United States military against the charge of brutalization and holding down American and Iraqi casualties." Schwarzkopf said he was sometimes unsure, when talking to Powell, if the position was Powell's own, that of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or that of the National Command Authority (i.e., Bush and Cheney). [17]

At 1545 hours on 27 February, Schwarzkopf and Powell spoke, and Powell liked Schwarzkopf's proposal.

So here's what I propose. I want the Air Force to keep bombing those convoys backed up at the Euphrates where the bridges are blown. I want to continue the ground attack tomorrow, drive to the sea, and totally destroy everything in our path. That's the way I wrote the plan for Desert Storn, and in one more day we'll be done. Do you realize if we stop tomorrow night, the ground campaign will have lasted five days? How does that sound to you: the Five-Day War? — Schwarzkopf, p. 469

Powell called back a few hours later, and said there was tension in Washington about the killing, and even Britain and France were asking how long it would continue.

The president is thinking about going on the air tonight at nine o'clock and announcing we're cutting it off. Would you have any problem with that?[18]

Schwarzkopf said that his "gut reaction" was that doing so would save American lives. While not every Iraqi resource had been destroyed, they were ineffective as a military force. Powell called back to explain that there would be three hours of fighting after Bush's announcement, so it would be a "hundred hour war".

Supply had become an issue, as well as soldier fatigue in around-the-clock fighting. If the ground war had lasted longer, General Schwarzkopf would have had to halt the advance to fill forward operating bases. On the morning of 27 February, as VII Corps prepared to complete the destruction of the Republican Guard Forces Command, 1st and 3d Armored Division tanks were almost out of fuel.[19] Typically, a M1 Abrams tank, in action, must refuel every 8 hours.

Refueling becomes complex, because fuel is not only needed for the tanks and other combat vehicles, but for the fuel trucks, and their escorts, bringing the fuel to the fighters.

Status of forces when the guns went silent

When the cease-fire ordered by President Bush went into effect, CENTCOM had very nearly destroyed the Iraqi ground forces. The Iraqis lost 3,847 of their 4,280 tanks, over half of their 2,880 armored personnel carriers, and nearly all of their 3,100 artillery pieces. Only five to seven of their forty-three combat divisions remained capable of offensive operations. In the days after the cease-fire the busiest soldiers were those engaged in the monumental task of counting and caring for an estimated 60,000 prisoners.[20]

The combat units came close to overrunning their supply lines. Tanks and tracked vehicles moved faster in the desert than supply trucks on roads. Helicopter movements needed exquisite planning of leapfrogging with Forward Ammunition and Refueling Points, generally spaced no more than 98 miles apart, that being the practical range of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying a fuel bladder as a sling load. [21]. There are several helicopter configurations that optimize their ability to transport fuel into FARPs, but there will be a delicate balance of the number and type of helicopters committed to fuel transport, as opposed to those available for combat operations. While a FARP technically covers both fueling and rearming, the closer the FARP to the enemy, the more likely it is to be restricted to fueling.[22]

Arranging the Cease-Fire

Schwarzkopf and Powell had discussed memorable means ways to conduct the cease-fire talk, such as using the deck of the battleship USS Missouri, which was in the theater, and having the Iraqis sign on the same deck where the World War II Japanese surrender had taken place. This simply turned out to be impractical, between getting the battleship to a convenient place, and then flying all relevant delegates to it.

The next choice was Jalibah air base, which had the symbolism of being 95 miles inside Iraq, making it obvious the Iraqis had been defeated. It was initially approved, but, on the evening of February 28, CENTCOM learned that Jalibah was littered with unexploded ordnance and was simply too dangerous a place to hold talks.

Next, Safwan, two miles inside Iraq, was suggested. It was quickly discovered, however, that no Coalition troops happened to be there, but Iraqi troops were. Schwarzkopf thought VII Corps was physically occupying Safwan. The annoyed Schwarzkopf directed Yeosock to make a show of force at Safwan and "encourage" the Iraqis to vacate. They did.

It was now necessary to work out the details of the signing. The Iraqis proposed to send two three-star generals not known to Schwarzkopf, Sultan Hashim Ahmad, deputy chief of defense staff, and Salah Abud Mahmud, commander of the now defunct III Corps that had fought at Khafji and in Kuwait. [23]

The Agreements

According to a Bush administration official, "Norm went in uninstructed...the generals made an effort not to be guided. It was treated as something that was a military decision, not to be micromanaged."[24]

Schwarzkopf directed the Iraqis that the first condition was accounting for POWs, followed by the return of remains, giving the locations of minefields and WMD bunkers, etc. The Iraqis agreed, although the issue remained open if Iraq had detained any Kuwaiti civilians.

According to Schwarzkopf, the Iraqis were generally agreeable, but had one request: "You know the situation of our roads and bridges and communications. We would like to fly helicopters to carry officials of our government into areas where roads and bridges are out. This has nothing to do with the front line. This is inside Iraq." Schwarzkopf, who said the Iraqis had accepted the other U.S. points, thought this was reasonable and replied, "As long as it is not over the part we are in, that is absolutely no problem. So we will let the helicopters fly. That is a very important point, and I want to make it sure that it's recorded, that military helicopters can fly over Iraq."

Iraqi LTG Ahmad then said something Schwarzkopf, in retrospect, thinks he should have questioned "So you mean even helicopters that are armed can fly in Iraq skies, but not the fighters? Because the helicopters are the same, they transfer somebody."

Schwarzkopf agreed, but wrote,

In the following weeks, we discovered what the son of a b**** had in mind: using helicopter gunships to suppress rebellions in Basra and other cities. By that time it was up to the White House to decide how much the United States wanted to intervene in the internal politics of Iraq...grounding the helicopter gunships [would have little effect]] compared to the Iraqi divisions that never entered the Kuwaiti war zone.[25]

Andrew Bacevich criticized the war ending, especially the role of Colin Powell: [26]

  • Early termination of the war to avoid the impression of gratuitous killing, yet leaving Saddam Hussein's key forces damaged but functioning
  • Giving too free a hand to H Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. in setting peace conditions, "perhaps confusing his role with Grant at Appomattox", and being magnanimous in such things as allowing Iraqis the use of helicopters, later employed in suppressing popular uprisings

Lessons learned

After isolating and evaluating various aspects of Army operations and systems, questions remained about the overall course of the war and its outcome. Was the Army really as good as the overwhelming victory and one-sided statistics of the war suggested? Was Iraq's military really that weak? Complete answers awaited more careful analysis of the combatants, but in the immediate aftermath of the ground campaign two conclusions to stand out:

  • Iraq was not ready to fight a first world force
  • The Coalition was not fully prepared to fight as fast as events permitted, especially on the ground.

Correlation of forces

First, Iraq's military was not prepared for a war of rapid movement over great distances. The Iraqis, in their most recent combat experience against Iran, had developed skills at slow-paced, defense-oriented warfare. Those skills proved inadequate to stop an army with high-speed armor capabilities.

Second, Central Command used its air arm to devastating advantage. With air supremacy established more than a month before the ground war began, the success of General Schwarzkopf's well-conceived and dreadfully misnamed "Hail Mary" play-the huge corps-size envelopment to the west-was assured. The relentless day and night pounding of aerial bombardment made easier the task of coalition units not in the envelopment, for when they attacked straight ahead into Iraqi positions, they found enemy units less than 50-percent effective. The combination of a powerful air offensive, followed by a fast moving armor-reinforced ground campaign, proved extremely effective in the desert environs of Southwest Asia.

Operational problems and threats

Speed and synchronization

First, Army units moved so fast that they found their enemy consistently out of position and oriented in the wrong direction. In 100 hours of combat XVIII Airborne Corps moved its lead elements 190 miles north into Iraq and then 70 miles east. Even the armor-heavy VII Corps drove 100 miles into Iraq and then 55 miles east. Iraqi units showed themselves unable to reposition even short distances before Army units were upon them.


The impressive overall performance notwithstanding, problems requiring postwar attention did occur. Several types of equipment drew criticism from commanders. American field radios proved unreliable, and commanders who had the opportunity to try British-made Iraqi radios pronounced them superior. Fortunately, the initiative of key commissioned and enlisted personnel at the battalion and company levels bridged communications gaps at crucial times.

Mobile equipment

A number of pieces of mobile equipment were felt to be underpowered. While the key M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles had adequate speed, the M109 Paladin 155mm howitzer delivered effective fire, but could not keep up with the M1 and M2. The M9 armored combat earthmover (i.e., bulldozer) did its pure engineer role well, but again could not keep pace in tactical movement.


Despite its brevity, the 100-hour Persian Gulf war lasted long enough to provoke an update of the age-old postwar lament, criticism of the supply effort. This time, the speed of the advance exposed a shortcoming: helicopters, tanks, and Bradleys outdistanced supply trucks. Lifting fuel tanks and ammunition pallets by helicopter provided a quick fix, but the fuel consumption of a helicopter was so great that using it carrying fuel was inefficient.

The HEMTT 2500-gallon fuel trucks carried their loads more efficiently, but were also slower, largely road-bound, and needed a guard force to move with them.


"24% of all [Coalition] deaths in the 1991 Persian Gulf War were the result of fratricide...between 1990 and 1999, 97 percent of fratricide victims were ground troops." It is not especially reassuring that fratricide deaths were down to 11 percent in the 2003 Iraq War[27]

Throughout the war, fratricide was a problem. The immensely complex Air Tasking Orders deconflicted aircraft, at the cost of rapid response to targets of opportunity. Things were especially difficult at the borders between units in different chains of command. In some cases, the decision was made not to have ground or air fire into some border areas, possibly missing some Iraqis but avoiding hitting friendly troops.[28]

The problem was not completely solved, and better communications for situational awareness and identifying one's own forces is a major ongoing requirement in military electronics.

It may well be that in the fog of war, friendly fire casualties are inevitable, but this solemn observation does not absolve the armed forces from doing everything in their power to eliminate the problem[28]

Theater ballistic missiles

While they did little actual destruction, the SCUD was an enormous psychological weapon, especially against civilian populations, and great resources were diverted against them. The particular version of the MIM-104 Patriot‎ air defense missile, although first thought to be intercepting the incoming missiles, turned out to be engaging, much of the time, the missile body rather than the warhead. The one missile that hit a barracks in Dharain was not engaged due to a Patriot software bug, the patch for which had not yet been applied. Current Patriot systems are several generations more advanced.

Weapons of mass destruction

While Saddam never used his WMD, chemical weapons were definitely found in supply dumps, and questions remain about health effects of destroying them in place. Early in the air war, many missions were directed against WMD facilities that may actually have no operational capability, but no commander was willing to take that risk.


Realistic training

A constant refrain was the value of the field training for heavy forces at the National Training Center (NTC) in Fort Irwin, California. More than one soldier said the Iraqis were not as tough as the Aggressor Force at the NTC, and very much agreed with the premises "you fight like you train, you train like you fight", and "sweat in training saves blood in battle".

NTC put U.S. battalion and brigade forces against a force that constantly fought on the same terrain, using Soviet tactical doctrine but with American maintenance such that the weapons always worked. The NTC was extensively instrumented, so soldiers were able to see, in after-action reviews, what they had done wrong and what they needed to fix. A culture had emerged where it was not harmful to an officer's career if he lost a practice engagement, but clearly understood the mistakes and what to do the next time. Of course, the minority of officers that managed victory under deliberately adverse conditions did tend to get noticed as far above the ordinary.


A striking coalition advantage was the ability to fight at night, as if it was day, using vision-enhancing technology. Neither family used the infrared light floodlights of the first generation, which revealed the position of the viewer. The next generation of night vision devices, or the "Starlight Scope", intensified even faint moon and starlight, but still had disadvantages compared to the systems available in 1991. The major systems were:

  • AN/PVS-4 sight for personal weapons such as rifles and machine guns, which could also be detached and used as a viewing aid.
  • AN/PVS-7 night vision device, a head-mounted monocular unit for ground vehicle operation, map reading, navigation, maintenance, and first aid.
  • AN/AVS-6 aviation night vision imaging system; a binocular system that allowed helicopter pilots to conduct nocturnal missions as close to the ground as possible.

The other family moved away from visible light amplification and the "near infrared", and used third-generation thermal imaging (i.e., forward-looking infrared): the difference between the heat of an object and its background. These penetrated not only night, but rain, dust storms, and even sand dunes, with range up to 2 miles. Coupled with invisible laser rangefinders, soldiers could detect, then precisely locate, enemy targets that first became aware they were not hidden when the world exploded around them.

Coupled with Global Navigation System that let soldiers know their precise position independently of roads, and also using the GPS precision time for synchronization, these technologies surpassed local knowledge of the Iraqis.

Being able to fight 24 hours a day, however, had medical and stress complications for soldiers, since the human body needs periodic rest. This is not completely solved, although soldiers have learned to sleep in bouncing, moving tanks and other vehicles.


Above all, precision-guided munitions worked. They did not work perfectly, and the airmen still cannot win all on their own. Effective tactical adaptations were made rapidly, such as "tank plinking", where F-111 aircraft armed with laser-guided bombs might well fly out with eight bombs each, and get confirmed kills of eight tanks with relatively inexpensive weapons.

The AH-64 Apache helicopter, which some believed would be maintenance intensive and might not work well in the desert, worked. While the A-10 Thunderbolt II was widely agreed to be the ugliest aircraft ever flown by the United States Air Force, with its official name ignored in favor of "Warthog", it was effective when used against the proper targets and with the proper doctrine: it was a tank-killer and close air support aircraft, not a high-performance fighter-bomber that could go into the teeth of strong air defense.

While it did not necessarily do huge amounts of damage, sometimes deliberately in keeping with a broader psychological plan, the venerable B-52 remained one of the most feared weapons.

The Air Force did demonstrate "Global Reach", flying 36-hour cruise missile delivery missions from the United States, but it was recognized this should be a quick-response contingency; flying aircraft out of closer locations made much more sense.

Stealth and cruise missiles worked.


The Abrams tank, Bradley fighting vehicle, the High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV, HUMVEE), and the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) all exceeded expectations in reliability.

There were five main variants of the HEMTT, one of which is a 2500 gallon fuel tanker, and the greatest problem is that there were not enough. To some extent, it was possible to supplement them in the rear areas by using commercial trucks, but logisticians continue to estimate the real need.

One of the major concerns is how well they could cope with the extremely fine desert dust, but with careful maintenance of air filters, they worked.

It should be noted that these were being used in rapid conventional combat, and have not been exposed to extensive mines and Improvised Explosive Devices as encountered in today's Iraqi urban environment.


  1. Schwarzkopf, H Norman, Jr. (1992), It Doesn't Take a Hero, Bantam pp. 285-289
  2. Schwarzkopf, p. 291
  3. Friedman, Thomas L. (22 March 1991), "After the War; U.S. Explains View on Envoy to Iraq", New York Times
  4. USN&WR, p. 31
  5. Epstein, Edward Jay, George Bush Sr. took no actions to deter Saddam Hussein from invading neighboring Kuwait on August 2nd, 1990. Did his inaction proceed from a failure of the CIA and other agencies to collect and transmit intelligence of the impending attack or from a judgment failure of President Bush, Sr. and his National Security apparatus?
  6. Gordon, Michael R. & Bernard E. Trainor (1995), The Generals' War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf, Little, Brown
  7. USN&WR, pp. 28-29
  8. Schwarzkopf, p. 301
  9. Schwarzkopf, p. 313
  10. (U.S. Army) Redstone Arsenal Historical Information, APPENDIX: OPERATION DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS 2 August 90-11 April 91, Team Redstone's Role in Operation DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM, Redstone Chronology
  11. Schwarzkopf, p. 317
  12. U.S. News & World Report (1992), Triumph without Victory: the History of the Persian Gulf War, Random House pp. xxiv-xxv
  13. "War in Persian Gulf area ends; Iraq accepts UN cease-fire, demand for reparations, but calls Council resolution 'unjust.'", UN Chronicle, June, 1991, UNChron
  14. Redstone Chronology
  15. Gordon & Trainor, p. 153
  16. Garrard, Mark (Fall 2001), "War Termination in the Persian Gulf: Problems and Prospects", Aerospace Power Journal
  17. Gordon & Trainor, pp. 423-424
  18. Schwarzkopf, p. 469
  19. Schubert & Kraus, p. 205
  20. Schubert & Kraus, p. 201
  21. FM 3-04.111 (FM 1-111) Aviation Brigades. Field Manual 3-014. Department of the Army (21 August 2003).
  22. Sheiffer, Matthew J (Winter 2003). "Hot Aircraft Refueling — Second to None!". Quartermaster Professional Bulletin.
  23. Schwarzkopf, pp. 472-483
  24. Gordon & Trainor, p. 444
  25. Schwarzkopf, pp. 488-498
  26. Andrew Bacevich (2005), The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195173384pp. 50-51
  27. 28.0 28.1 Steinweg (Spring 1995), "Dealing Realistically With Fratricide", Parameters: 4-29