By Victor Kamenir
IN November 1990 the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq if it failed to withdraw from Kuwait by January 15, 1991. With just nine days to go in the countdown to what would become the Persian Gulf War, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein delivered a speech to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the modern Iraqi Army.
“The battle in which you are locked today is the mother of all battles,” he said, brandishing a rifle in a bellicose speech to his armed forces. “A battle of such scope requires great sacrifices both in quality and quantity irrespective of the foreseen and unforeseen consequences, which will no doubt please the friend and anger the enemy.”
When the Iraq-Iran War ended in 1988, the Iraqi government sought to find a way out of the state of impoverishment in which it found itself after the eight-year conflict. Iraq not only owed money to the neighboring Islamic nation of Kuwait, but also found that high oil production in Kuwait depressed the price of Iraqi oil exports.
Hussein invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, claiming that the small country at the tip of the Persian Gulf was Iraq’s 19th province. In just 48 hours, the Iraqi Republican Guard overran Kuwait forcing the country’s surviving military units to flee to neighboring Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. As a result of his swift conquest of Kuwait, Hussein controlled one-fifth of the world’s oil reserves.
Hussein had no intention of giving up his prize without gaining political and financial benefits.
Fearing his next move, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq in an effort to get Hussein to withdraw his forces from Kuwait. Meanwhile, a powerful coalition of 35 western and Arab countries responded to the Iraqi aggression by deploying 580,000 troops along the SaudiArabian border in Operation Desert Shield. Six carrier battle groups sailed into the theater of operations to support the Coalition offensive to liberate Kuwait. Western intelligence services estimated the strength of Saddam’s army to be 500,000 troops, though the actual number turned out to be much smaller.
Iraqi armaments and equipment were mainly made by the Soviet Union, and its warfighting doctrine followed the Soviet model as well. Thus, the Iraqi Army relied heavily on artillery and rocket units. Its Soviet-made R-11 and R-17 “Scud” intermediate-range ballistic missiles could reach targets up to 400 miles away.
Iraqi infantry divisions formed the first line of defense. They were deployed in line from the Persian Gulf along the Kuwaiti border and within 100 miles along Iraq’s southern border with Saudi Arabia. The Iraqi military placed behind them two mechanized and three armored divisions to serve as a mobile reserve, halt anticipated breakthroughs by Coalition forces, and conduct counterattacks. Twelve other divisions, including all five divisions of the Republican Guard Corps, formed the strategic reserve.
Hussein had micromanaged Iraqi forces during the war with Iran, and he actively discouraged his generals from showing initiative. The top commanders of the Coalition forces hoped that if they could take out Iraqi command and control with precision air strikes, then Iraqi units would be rendered ineffective and Iraqi resistance would collapse.
The weakness of the Iraqi army was its stiff command structure, poor personnel training, and equipment maintenance. The Iraqi Army’s battle tank component included aging T-72 tanks that dated from early 1970. It also included second-line tanks such as the T-62 and T-55, as well as Chinese Type-59s and Type-69s. Iraqi tanks lacked thermal sights and laser rangefinders, and did not possess the long-range capability of Western main battle tanks.
Iraqi defensive plans centered on the assumption that the Coalition attack, when it came, would be delivered against Iraqi forces in Kuwait in line with the U.N. Security Council’s stated goal of liberating Kuwait. In expectation of Coalition attack, the Iraqis built extensive layered networks of minefields, anti-tank ditches, and 15- foot-high sand berms. The Iraqis intentionally left breaks in the sand berms in an effort to channel Coalition forces into kill zones for their artillery.
President George H. W. Bush placed General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the U.S. Central Command, in overall command of Coalition forces. Schwarzkopf organized the Coalition forces into five major commands deployed from east to west as follows: Joint Forces Command East (JFC-E), I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), Joint Forces Command North (JFC-N), U.S. Army VII Corps, and the U.S. XVIII Corps.
The January 15 deadline passed without Iraq making any attempt to withdraw, and Operation Desert Shield transitioned into Operation Desert Storm. At 3 a.m. local time on January 16, Coalition jets streaked over the border, striking Iraqi high-value targets deep inside Iraq and Kuwait as coalition artillery and missiles rained on targets closer to the border. Having established air superiority on the first day of the war, over the course of the next 42 days Coalition air forces flew approximately 100,000 missions in a relentless campaign in which they dropped about 90,000 tons of bombs.
Hussein responded by ordering Iraqi batteries to launch Scud missiles against Saudi Arabia and Israel. By attacking Israel with Scud missiles, Hussein hoped to start a holy war by provoking the Jewish state into attacking Iraq. Hussein hoped that this would anger Arab states of the Coalition and fracture the alliance.
President Bush responded by reassuring Israeli leaders that the United States would protect them from Hussein’s Scud attacks. He immediately made plans to send U.S. Patriot missile batteries to Israel to down the missiles in flight. By doing so, Bush foiled Hussein’s plan to provoke Israel into a holy war. As the Coalition air forces and special operations forces began hunting Scud batteries deployed in Iraq, the number of Scud attacks dropped significantly.
Under the relentless Coalition air strikes, Saddam could no longer maintain a passive defensive stance. On the evening of January 29, 1991, elements of three Iraqi divisions struck south across the Kuwaiti border into Saudi Arabia. The Saudi-Kuwaiti border zigzags west from the shore of the Persian Gulf, forming a heel, and then runs roughly north and turns west at an elbow.
Brigades from 1st Mechanized and 3rd Armored Divisions engaged Marine outposts in the sector between the heel and the elbow.
In the meantime, the 15th Mechanized Brigade from the 5th Mechanized Division struck toward Khafji, a small Saudi town on the shore of the Persian Gulf. The Iraqis quickly occupied the town; as they did so, they drove back a screen of Coalition forces. Hussein’s intentions were to engage the Coalition ground forces and then quickly fall back in an effort to entice them to attack entrenched Iraqi positions.
Saudi King Fahd, however, could not let the affront stand. He insisted that the town be swiftly retaken and that the honor of liberating Khafji should fall to Arabs troops. As the Saudis made preparations to achieve this objective, Coalition aircraft and Marine artillery pummeled Iraqi units at Khafji. Two Saudi battalions and one Qatari company, supported by Coalition air and Marine artillery, launched a somewhat disorganized but spirited attack on January 31. The mixed force succeeded in breaking into Khafji that afternoon. By the following morning, Coalition forces had recaptured Khafji.
In mid-February battalion-sized task forces of the U.S. Army and Marines began to conduct artillery raids and anti-reconnaissance missions along the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. These probes aimed to engage frontline Iraqi units to in an effort to provoke them into a response. Schwarzkopf believed that this would force the Iraqis to reveal the positions of hidden artillery batteries. Once the batteries were unmasked, Coalition aircraft and artillery could neutralize them.
To continue focusing Iraqi attention on the Kuwaiti border, Coalition forces conducted a number of defensive measures. They maneuvered their naval vessels close to the Kuwaiti shore, hoping to give the Iraqis the impression that Marine amphibious landings were imminent. Electronic warfare units sent out radio traffic to simulate the location of Coalition ground forces and convoys, raising clouds of dust drove back and force to simulate logistical operations.
Deception efforts and Coalition air superiority left Iraqi intelligence blind to actual allied troop dispositions. This allowed Schwarzkopf on February 23 to rapidly shift the XVIII Air Airborne Corps to the west placing it opposite the weakly defended Iraqi right flank. Schwarzkopf’s plans called for deep penetration of Iraqi defenses by the VII Corps and XVIII Airborne Corps. Once they had penetrated enemy lines, these forces would turn east to encircle and destroy the elite divisions of the Iraqi Republican Guard Corps. Operation Desert Saber, the name for the general ground offensive, began at 4 a.m. on February 24 following a three-hour artillery barrage on the entire 300-mile length of the battlefront.
On the Coalition’s right flank, five mechanized brigades composed of Arab troops of JFC-E advanced along the coastal road encountering very light resistance. Schwarzkopf ordered the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade to transfer a battalion from ships in the Persian Gulf by helicopter to the Al Wafra oilfield just north of the Saudi-Kuwaiti border inside Kuwait. Once at that location, the Marine battalion would establish a new defensive position.
On its left, I MEF faced a much denser concentration of Iraqi units defending Kuwait City 35 miles away. The MK154 Mine Clearing Launchers deployed on AAV-7 Amphibious Assault Vehicles fired line charges to clear passages through minefields. The line charges, however, frequently failed to detonate due to a faulty igniter. To remedy this, Marine combat engineers exited their assault vehicles to manually fire the mine clearing charges.
Once they had been fired, M60A1 tanks equipped with mine plows would finish clearing the lanes, leading the lighter-armored AAVs through the obstacles. Battalion-sized task forces from the 1st Marine Division then pushed through toward the Al-Jaber Air Base 15 miles into Kuwait. On the way to the airbase, the 1st Marine Division destroyed 20 Iraqi T-55 and T-62 tanks.
On its left flank, the 2nd Marine Division and the 1st Brigade from Army’s 2nd Armored Division made good progress through the berm but needed mine clearing charges to make passage lanes in extensive minefields. In both sectors, faced with U.S. Marine M60A1 and U.S. Army M1A1 Abrams tanks and battered by artillery and air attacks, hundreds of Iraqi soldiers began laying down their arms. In this phase of the campaign, an entire Iraqi tank battalion surrendered to Maj. Gen. William M. Keys’ 2nd Marine Division.
The flow of Iraqi prisoners to the rear quickly became so great that it temporarily blocked one of the passage lanes. As American combat units approached Kuwait City, the Iraqis began setting Kuwaiti oil fields on fire.
Brig. Gen. Bernard Janvier’s French 6th Light Armored Division, which was deployed 200 miles to the west with a brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division, crossed the Saudi-Iraqi border on Coalition’s far left flank. On the way to Al-Salman 60 miles into Iraq, the 6th Light Armored rumbled through the ground initially held by the Iraqi 45th Infantry Division, which had been severely depleted by Coalition air strikes.
Janvier’s attack was spearheaded by missile-armed Gazelle attack helicopters that pulverized dug-in Iraqi tanks and bunkers. The brief clash cost the 6th Light Armored two killed and 25 wounded, the French troops routed the Iraqi division. In so doing, they captured 2,500 prisoners. Delayed by bad weather for three hours, hundreds of Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters, in the largest helicopter-borne operation in history, delivered a brigade from the 101st Airborne Division to the Al-Salman airfield. After a brief fight with a reserve battalion from the Iraqi 45th Infantry Division, the airborne troops established a forward operations base that they named Cobra.
Schwarzkopf’s plans initially called for engaging the Iraqi on both flanks on February 24 and committing the VII Corps and the rest of the XVIII Airborne Corps on the following morning. But surprisingly weak Iraqi opposition and speed of advance by the French and the leading elements of the 101st Airborne caused Schwarzkopf to move up the schedule by 14 hours.
The 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) from the XVIII Airborne Corps went into action at mid-afternoon Advancing against unexpectedly light opposition, the 24th Division halted 75 miles inside Iraqi territory by midnight. Satellite navigation and image-enhancing equipment allowed American units to navigate safely at night.
The U.S. Army’s VII Corps also advanced ahead of schedule. On its right flank, the 1st Cavalry Division attacked through Wadi Al-Batin, running along the north-south border between Iraq and Kuwait. The division’s mission was to engage and pin down Iraqi divisions to its front while the main forces of the VII Corps hit hard to its left.
Coalition tanks equipped with mine plows, D7 Armored Combat Earthmovers, and M728 Combat Engineer Vehicles from the 1st Infantry Division smashed through the sand berms and Iraqi trenches just behind them. A diamond formation of two M1A1 Abrams tanks and two Bradley fighting vehicles protected the vulnerable bulldozers as they attacked the sand berms.
Bradley fighting vehicles climbed the slopes and enfiladed the Iraqi trenches while heavy-tracked vehicles ran over the trenches. Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers were killed and captured, while the U.S. mechanized troops did not suffer any casualties. Lead battalions cleared multiple lanes through the forward Iraqi positions to allow units of the 1st Infantry Division to pour through the enemy lines.
To the west of the 1st Infantry Division, the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment cleared the way for U.S. 1st and 2nd armored divisions to exploit the breakthrough in depth. After advancing 2 into Iraqi territory, Lt. Gen. Frederick M. Franks, the commander of the VII Corps, halted the two armored divisions to keep them in contact with the 1st Infantry Division. By the end of the day, the VII Corps had destroyed several small Iraqi units and captured 1,300 prisoners.
The 82nd Airborne Division on February 25 advanced overland and reached Forward Operating Base Cobra where it joined the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne and the French 6th Light Armored. Meanwhile, the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne leapfrogged forward. It severed Highway 8 and then continued north to the Euphrates River west of the town of Al-Nasinyah. By the end of the day the brigade was 140 miles north of the Saudi-Iraqi border.
Maj. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the aggressive commander of the 24th Infantry Division, began moving his brigades forward before dawn. Faced with feeble resistance from two Iraqi infantry divisions, the 24th Infantry Division had reached all of its objectives and captured hundreds of prisoners by the end.
At that point in the ground campaign, a problem developed on the right flank of the VII Corps in the seam where right flank of the VII Corps met the left flank of the Arab forces of the JFCN. The Syrian and Egyptian units failed to advance as instructed, and this failure left a glaring gap in the Coalition line. With the British 1st Armored Division still in the process of crossing the Saudi-Iraqi border, Franks ordered the 2nd Armoured Cavalry Regiment to advance along the Wadi al-Batin.
While Franks’ right flank halted, the 1st and 3rd armored divisions on the left flank advanced. In the 1st Armored Division’s zone, Iraqi units generally surrendered after brief resistance. One determined Iraqi armored battalion of 50 T-55 tanks launched a counterattack, but Abrams tanks destroyed them at close range.
By late morning, Arab units from the JFC-N finally began moving forward. This allowed the VII Corps and the Marines on both flanks of the Arab forces to continue to press their attacks. The 1st Infantry Division overran the rear echelons of the Iraqi 26th Infantry division, capturing an Iraqi brigadier general. The British 1st Armored Division moved up on the line in preparation for their attack. The 1st Armored Division approached close to the town of Al-Busayyah. At the same time, the 2nd Armored Cavalry and the 3rd Armored Division reached their respective objectives. They made preparations to pivot east the next day and continue their advance.
In I MEF’s sector, the Iraqis mounted a predawn counterattack against the 2nd Marine Division in the area of Burqan oilfield. The fighting took place in a nightmarish scenario among burning oil wells where the pall from the smoke blocked out the sun even well into the afternoon.
In a fast-moving tank clash that would become known afterwards as the “Reveille Engagement,” a battalion of 39 Iraqi tanks sped across the position of Bravo Company of the Marine 4th Tank Battalion. The reserve company was the only Marine unit equipped with M1A1 Abrams tanks. In an engagement that lasted under two minutes, the Abrams tank crews knocked out all of the Iraqi tanks.
Later that same morning the Iraqis made a heavy push against the forward headquarters of the 1st Marine Division. Under cover of smoke, elements from the Iraqi 5th Mechanized and 8th Infantry Divisions were able to approach dangerously close.
The Marines repulsed three determined Iraqi attacks over the course of the next four hours. Yet again U.S. firepower proved superior. The Marines destroyed 100 Iraqi tanks and armored fighting vehicles without losing a single tank.
Not all fighting was one-sided. In the fight for the Al-Jaber airfield, a defending Iraqi artillery brigade, the 449th Artillery, delivered surprisingly accurate fire on the advancing Americans. In the sharp clash, one Marine was killed and 12 wounded before the airfield was captured.
While the Iraqi units were being demolished on the ground, Iraqi Scud batteries continued to fire their missiles at targets in Israel and Saudi Arabia. One Scud hit the U.S. Army barrack in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The blast that occurred at 8:40 p.m. on February 25 killed 28 and wounded 90 U.S. reservists of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment.
The Scud strike was the highest incident of American casualties during the war.
Heavy fighting erupted on the morning of February 26 on the approach to Kuwait International Airport. Sixteen-inch guns from the battleships USS Wisconsin and USS Missouri fired 2,700- pound shells in support of the Marine offensive. Throughout the day Marine battalion task forces steadily ground down pockets of Iraqi resistance in rugged terrain. After the Marines secured the outside perimeter of the airport, Iraqi snipers continued fired on targets in the airport’s buildings.
To remove the threat, U.S. Army Special Forces hunted the Iraqi snipers, conducting sweeps in which they systematically cleared every room in every building.
In the area of operations of Lieutenant General Gary Luck’s XVIII Airborne Corps, the 24th Infantry Division, with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment on its right, turned east toward airfields at Jabbah and Tallil. These forces ran into strongly fortified positions in a chain of low hills defended by the Iraqi 47th and 49th Infantry Divisions, the Nebuchadnezzar Division of the Republican Guard, and the 26th Commando Brigade.
Iraqi tanks, artillery, and machine guns unleashed a barrage of fire on American units. The counter-battery fire of American artillery steadily silences one Iraqi battery after another. Thermal-imaging systems on American combat vehicles and helicopters allowed them to spot and hit Iraqi vehicles at more than 4,000 yards before Iraqis even saw them. By late evening resistance west of the two airfields ceased, and thousands of Iraqi soldiers surrendered. The 24th Infantry Division halted for the night and made preparations to attack Jalibah and Tallil the following day.
The 1st Armored Division from the VII Corps advanced on the small town of Al Busayyah, defended by an Iraqi battalion from the 26th Infantry Division, which included a dozen T-55 tanks in hull-down positions. The leading American battalions quickly silenced ineffective Iraqi small-arms fire.
Several Iraqi T-55s that attempted to engage the American battalions were dispatched promptly with sabot rounds. An American infantry battalion encountered resistance inside the town, which was suppressed with artillery fire. Charging forward, the 1st Armored Division overran the headquarters and rear echelon units of the Iraqi VII Corps. Next, the 1st and 3rd armored divisions engaged the elite Tawakalna Division of the Republican Guards Corps in a slugfest that lasted well into the following morning.
In the area of grid reference known as “Phase Line Bullet” in southern Iraq, lead elements from the 3rd Armored Division ran into strongly fortified positions of a brigade from the Tawakalna Republican Guard Division. A platoon of 14 M3 Bradley scout vehicles came under fire from enemy T-72 tanks, anti-tank missiles, and machine guns. As the Bradleys returned fire, they were mistaken for enemy vehicles and fired upon by an American tank company. Three Bradleys became victims of friendly fire, which took the lives of two American soldiers. Iraqi forces damaged three others.
The battered scout platoon pulled back while the Iraqis withdrew during the night, leaving behind more than 20 tanks and armored fighting vehicles destroyed or abandoned. The action at Phase Line Bullet was one of a few cases where a Coalition unit was forced to fall back without breaching Iraqi defenses.
At this point, the frontage of the VII Corps swung to face east with the 1st Armored Division on the left flank, the 3rd Armored Division and 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in the center, and the 1st Infantry Division on the right. Further south was the British 1st Armored Division and U.S. 1st Cavalry Division, which became part of the VII Corps.
As the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment advanced east through a dust storm, it began encountering a growing volume of Iraqi fire from prepared positions. With its three line squadrons in line, the regiment pressed on after eliminating every pocket of resistance. Its mission was to locate and pin the enemy in place until the arrival of the 3rd Armored Division; however, with the armored division heavily engaged in its own sector, Franks ordered the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment to advance on its own. By midafternoon the dust storm subsided enough to allow the choppers of its 4th Squadron to take to the air in support of its ground brethren.
Serious opposition came at 4 p.m. at 73 Easting, a north-south grid line on a military map, when the regiment ran into adjoining flanks of the Tawakalna Division of the Republican Guard Corps and the 12th Armored Division, one of the best units of the Iraqi regular army. Lacking intelligence assets to determine the location of American units, the Iraqis had to ascertain the situation by moving to contact.
Braving deadly fire from M1A1 Abrams tanks and tube-launched, optically tracked, wireless-guided missile systems mounted on Bradley fighting vehicles, Iraqi T-72 and T-62 tanks came in waves. Unlike previous encounters where Iraqi units ran or surrendered after suffering first losses, troops of Tawakalna and the 12th Armored Division continued to fight. In the long run, though, their bravery proved futile when pitted against superior American technology and training. In one instance, two Bradley scout vehicles armed with 25mm Bushmaster cannons and two more with mounted TOW missile launchers engaged an entire company of Iraqi T-72s. They destroyed five tanks before 2nd ACR’s own tanks arrived. In a tragic accident, one of the Bradleys launched a missile at a friendly vehicle, wounding its three crewmen.
By late afternoon, the 2nd ACR wiped out two Iraqi brigades, destroying 160 tanks and 250 other vehicles. During the night, the 2nd ACR halted to regroup and resupply, allowing the 1st Infantry Division to pass through them and press on.
Shortly before 1 a.m. on February 27, the 1st Infantry Division and the British 1st Armored Division engaged two brigades from the Tawakalna and Hammurabi division of the Republican Guard Corps and elements from at least 10 more Iraqi divisions roughly two miles east of 73 Easting. The engagement, which became known afterwards the Battle of Norfolk, was the largest tank battle of the war and one of the largest in American history.
Pummeled by massive artillery barrages, the iraqi units largely lost their offensive capabilities and mainly offered static resistance. keenly aware of coalition’s thermal imaging devices, the iraqi tankers did not turn on their engines until the last moment, resulting in american units unknowingly bypassing silent iraqis. night fighting occurred at close range and was punctuated by muzzle flashes and exploding combat vehicles.
Next, the British 1st Armored Division engaged the Iraqi 52nd Armored Division and elements of four infantry divisions. By the end of the engagement, at least eight Iraqi divisions were destroyed, and hulks of hundreds of Iraqi fighting vehicles littered the desert floor. The Iraqis knocked out four Abrams tanks and five Bradley fighting vehicles. A short distance away, at another key objective, the 3rd Armored Division mauled several more Iraqi brigades, knocking out 200 more Iraqi armored vehicles.
On the left flank of the VII Corps, two brigades from the 1st Armored Division and a brigade from the 3rd Infantry Division engaged the Medina and Adnan divisions of the Republican Guard Corps at a low rise southwest of Basra, which became known as “Medina Ridge.” At that location, the Iraqis deployed a number of their tanks on reverse slopes to take American fighting vehicles under fire as they topped the ridge. American aircraft and attack helicopters, including the 1st Armored Division’s aviation brigade, launched repeated attacks against entrenched enemy positions. The Iraqi air defenses accounted themselves well. They not only downed an A-10 Thunderbolt, but also downed two AH-64 Apache helicopters. In another major tank clash, the American units destroyed 120 Iraqi tanks and armored fighting vehicles at the cost of two Bradleys fighting vehicles.
To the north, the 1st and 2nd Brigades from the 24th Infantry Division attacked Jalibah airfield southeast of Al Nasinyah on the morning of February 27. The 197th Brigade moved against Tallil Airfield south of the city. Between the two airfields lay a key objective in the form of a large logistics hub defended by elements of two Iraqi infantry divisions backed by the elite Nebuchadnezzar Division of the Republican Guards.
The Iraqi units defending Jalibah put up a good fight. They knocked out two Bradleys, killing two Americans and wounding several others. Despite the resistance, by late morning, the two airfields were in American hands, and surviving Iraqi units were retreating. By nightfall, the 24th Infantry Division halted just 30 miles west of Basra.
Throughout the day, panicked flight of Iraqi units continued north along Highway 80, only to enter the maelstrom of fire from Coalition air, artillery, and ground units. The highway, which was littered with destroyed, burned, and abandoned vehicles, became known afterwards as the “Highway of Death.” Demoralized Iraqi soldiers continued surrendering in large numbers.
In just four days of fighting, the 24th Infantry Division covered 260 miles, destroyed 360 armored vehicles, and rounded up thousands of prisoners. The success came at unexpectedly minor casualties, which amounted to eight killed and 36 wounded in action. The division lost only three damaged M1A1 tanks and one destroyed.
By the end February 27 the VII Corps had destroyed 1,300 Iraqi tanks and 1,200 armored fighting vehicles, inflicted thousands of casualties, and took 20,000 prisoners. The Marine Corps’ materiel losses came to seven damaged M1A1 tanks, 15 Bradley fighting vehicles, two armored personnel carriers, and one Apache helicopter.
To the east of the VII Corps, the 2nd Marine Division and the 1st Brigade from Army’s 2nd Armored Division continued advancing north, while the 1st Marine Division hooked to the east to Kuwaiti City. The Army’s 1st Brigade charged toward Al Jahrah, a western suburb of Kuwait City, to capture vital crossroads to prevent Iraqi units from escaping north to Iraq. U.S. Army tank crews navigated their way through minefields and enemy bunker complexes destroying dozens of Iraqi armored vehicles and capturing hundreds of prisoners.
As the leading Abrams tanks topped the low Mutla Ridge, they observed an incredible scene on Highway 80 running north to Iraq. The previous day Coalition aircraft had begun strafing and bombing rear-echelon Iraqi units. Many of these Iraqi troops had commandeered civilian cars and were fleeing north in what Coalition forces derisively called “the Mother of all retreats.” Abrams tank crews fired sabot rounds, adding their weight to the destruction.
While hundreds of Iraqi soldiers surrendered, a determined group of 40 Iraqis took positions in the Mutla police station north of Kuwait City. A company of Army infantry had to clear out the building room by room, wiping out the resistance. During the fight, an Army sergeant was killed by an Iraqi sniper.
The Iraqis met the 1st Marine Division’s drive toward Kuwait City with two counterattacks.
Marine ground units and artillery, as well as Coalition air support, smashed the feeble counterattacks. The Iraqi defenses in depth, consisting of elements from several Iraqi divisions with entrenched artillery, were gradually overcome with Marine M60 Patton tanks outfighting Iraqi T-72 tanks. The fighting cost the Marines 15 killed, 12 wounded, and one M60 Patton tank disabled. The Iraqi army lost 300 tanks.
By the end of February 27, the fourth day of the war, Coalition forces had liberated Kuwait City, and either destroyed or forced the retreat north of Iraqi units in Kuwait and southern Iraq. U.S. senior military commanders began disseminating warnings that a ceasefire would come the next day.
“Kuwait is liberated,” President Bush informed American citizens that evening. “Iraq’s army has been defeated. Our military objectives have been met.” Coalition forces set conditional ceasefire and suspension of active combat operations for the following morning. Sporadic skirmishing continued throughout the night, but as expected weary but jubilant Coalition forces stood down the following morning.
Operation Desert Storm was one of the most one-sided victories in the history of warfare. Western investments in weapons, technology, and training enabled Coalition forces to outmaneuver and outfight woefully inadequate Iraqi formations. Among the most instrumental technologies in bringing about a rapid victory were thermal-imaging and laser range-finding equipment that enabled Western mechanized units to move fast and fight at night. The superior tanks and fighting vehicles of the Coalition forces easily outfought Iraqi tanks outside their effective ranges.
By the time the ceasefire went into effect at 8 a.m. on February 28, just seven of the 43 Iraqi divisions remained operational. Coalition forces had destroyed 3,800 of the 4,300 Iraqi tanks, as well as 1,400 armored personnel carriers and 3,000 artillery pieces.
The cost to the Coalition forces was 60 tanks and armored fighting vehicles. The Coalition forces suffered 1,378 killed and wounded. The bulk of these were U.S. and British troops. In contrast, the Iraqi Army suffered 22,000 casulaties.
Under the U.N. mandate that liberated Kuwait, President Bush ordered a halt to offensive combat operations when the 101st Airborne Division was just 120 miles from Baghdad. Yet when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, his son, 43rd U.S. President George W. Bush, drove Hussein from power. American troops captured Hussein on December 13, 2003, and an Iraqi Special Tribunal sentenced him to death by hanging three years later for crimes against humanity.
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