U.S., Kuwait Mark Gulf War 20th Anniversary

WASHINGTON — This week marks 20 years since the Unit­ed States, as part of a 34-nation coali­tion, drove Sad­dam Hussein’s Iraqi army out of Kuwait, return­ing that nation to sov­er­eign­ty and reshap­ing the U.S. mil­i­tary to the force it is today.
U.S. ser­vice mem­bers will join mil­i­tary mem­bers from dozens of oth­er coali­tion coun­tries tomor­row in a grand mil­i­tary parade through the streets of Kuwait City, in what the Kuwaiti gov­ern­ment is call­ing its country’s “Gold­en Jubilee.” The event also marks the 50th anniver­sary of Kuwait’s inde­pen­dence from Great Britain and, U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cials say, will rec­og­nize the impor­tant strate­gic alliance between Kuwait and the Unit­ed States.

Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm
A for­ma­tion of armored vehi­cles, manned by U.S. sol­diers and Marines, stand ready to lead a con­voy of coali­tion forces through the parade grounds estab­lished for the 50/20 cel­e­bra­tion in Kuwait City, Kuwait, Feb. 21, 2011. The cel­e­bra­tion com­mem­o­rates the 20th anniver­sary of the U.S.-led lib­er­a­tion of Kuwait dur­ing the first Gulf War and the 50th anniver­sary of Kuwait’s inde­pen­dence from Great Britain. It also hon­ors the vet­er­ans of Oper­a­tions Desert Shield and Desert Storm and rec­og­nizes the long stand­ing and suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship that is indica­tive of U.S. friend­ships in the region.
U.S. Army pho­to by Sgt. M. Ben­jamin Gable
Click to enlarge

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will join 22 pres­i­dents, 64 heads of state and oth­er senior offi­cials attend­ing the cer­e­monies. “Twen­ty years ago, Kuwait and the Unit­ed States formed an unbreak­able alliance, which has grown into a com­pre­hen­sive part­ner­ship that pro­motes free­dom, pros­per­i­ty and democ­ra­cy in the Mid­dle East region and the world,” Army Lt. Gen. William G. Web­ster Jr., com­man­der of U.S. Third Army, said in a state­ment to the Kuwaiti people. 

The cel­e­bra­tion comes as his­to­ry is being made in the Mid­dle East where cit­i­zen upris­ings in recent weeks have prompt­ed rev­o­lu­tions against repres­sive gov­ern­ments that have spread from Tunisia to Egypt, Iran, Libya and elsewhere. 

The Kuwaiti gov­ern­ment on its web­site says Iraq’s inva­sion was “a crit­i­cal point in mod­ern Arab his­to­ry.” It goes on to say that “the Kuwaiti gov­ern­ment and its peo­ple will nev­er for­get all those who stood with them and sup­port­ed them dur­ing the peri­od of bru­tal invasion.” 

The first Gulf War was sparked when then-Iraqi dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein ordered an inva­sion of Kuwait after that nation’s gov­ern­ment defied his demands to cut oil pro­duc­tion to allow for increased prices. 

On Aug. 2, 1990, three armored divi­sions of Hussein’s Repub­li­can Guard crossed into Kuwait, sped toward the cap­i­tal of Kuwait City and, with­in days, over­ran Kuwait, accord­ing to Army his­to­ri­an Richard Stewart’s “War in the Per­sian Gulf: Oper­a­tions Desert Shield and Desert Storm, August 1990-March 1991,” pub­lished by the Cen­ter of Mil­i­tary His­to­ry. Many Kuwait­is fled to neigh­bor­ing Sau­di Ara­bia — the largest for­eign sup­pli­er of U.S. oil. Many Saud­is feared Hus­sein would unleash his mil­lion-man army on their coun­try next. At the urg­ing of Pres­i­dent George H. W. Bush, Sau­di King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, on Aug. 6, 1990, approved mov­ing U.S. mil­i­tary assets onto Sau­di soil, open­ing the door to “the most con­cen­trat­ed and com­plex pro­jec­tion of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pow­er since World War II,” Stew­art wrote. 

Under the direc­tion of then-Defense Sec­re­tary Richard B. Cheney — who would lat­er serve as vice pres­i­dent to Pres­i­dent George W. Bush when U.S. forces pushed into Iraq to top­ple Hus­sein in March 2003 — and Army Gen. H. Nor­man Schwarzkopf Jr., then-Cent­com com­man­der, U.S. forces amassed a buildup of near­ly 200,000 troops in Sau­di Ara­bia by late Sep­tem­ber 1990 as part of Oper­a­tion Desert Shield. 

The U.S. com­mit­ment to dri­ve Iraq’s army out of Kuwait would grow to 697,000 sol­diers, Marines and air­men, and include the deploy­ment of 108 Navy ships to the region, Web­ster not­ed in his anniver­sary mes­sage to the Kuwaitis. 

Amer­i­ca was­n’t alone dur­ing the first Gulf War. The Bush admin­is­tra­tion built a 33-mem­ber coali­tion that includ­ed long­time west­ern allies such as Great Britain, France and Cana­da, as well as Iraq’s neigh­bors in the Mid­dle East: Sau­di Ara­bia, Egypt, Syr­ia, the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, Moroc­co, Oman, and Qatar, as well as Pakistan. 

“The Unit­ed States assem­bled an unprece­dent­ed and broad coali­tion to redress the strate­gic bal­ance in the Mid­dle East upset by Iraq’s inva­sion of Kuwait,” accord­ing to a Joint Staff paper about the war. The first Gulf War “ush­ered in an era of coali­tion war­fare in which the Unit­ed States has gen­er­al­ly sought the approval and sup­port of oth­er gov­ern­ments and inter­na­tion­al agen­cies before inter­ven­ing in a region­al cri­sis,” the paper said. 

Coali­tion troops assem­bled in the region as civil­ian lead­ers worked with the Unit­ed Nations to pres­sure Hus­sein to with­draw his forces from Kuwait. When embar­gos and oth­er mea­sures were exhaust­ed, the U.N. set a Jan. 15, 1991, dead­line for the Iraqi mil­i­tary to depart Kuwait. Hus­sein ignored the deadline. 

“The ham­mer fell on Iraqi forces ear­ly in the morn­ing of Jan. 17,” Lt. Col. Les’ Mel­nyk, an Army Nation­al Guard his­to­ri­an, wrote in “Mobi­liz­ing for the Storm: The Army Nation­al Guard in Oper­a­tions Desert Shield and Desert Storm.” In the Unit­ed States, where it was still Jan. 16, he not­ed, “the air and mis­sile attacks com­ing in over Bagh­dad were broad­cast live as the [tele­vi­sion] net­works broke in on their evening line­up,” allow­ing Amer­i­cans, for the first time, to watch a real-time, play-by-play of their mil­i­tary at war. “It was the most stun­ning bomb­ing cam­paign in the his­to­ry of the world,” Mel­nyk wrote. 

For 38 days, the aer­i­al bom­bard­ment put on full dis­play weapons and equip­ment that could not have been imag­ined when U.S. troops fought their last major war two decades ear­li­er in Vietnam. 

“There were silent air­planes that could not be tracked from the ground, bombs that could be steered to hit a tar­get the size of a chair, mis­siles that could destroy oth­er mis­siles in midair, and satel­lites that could tell a per­son in the mid­dle of the track­less desert where they were,” the U.S. Cen­ten­ni­al of Flight Com­mis­sion wrote of the Gulf War. The Iraqis’ coun­ter­at­tack of aging Scud mis­siles was no match for the coali­tion, which dropped at least 88,500 tons of bombs dur­ing more than 100,000 sor­ties, destroy­ing all sig­nif­i­cant Iraqi tar­gets, allow­ing for the U.S.-led ground war, Oper­a­tion Desert Storm, to begin Feb. 24. 

With the Viet­nam War as their pre­vi­ous point of ref­er­ence, Amer­i­can broad­cast­ers and politi­cians spec­u­lat­ed that the ground war would change the coalition’s good for­tunes, Mel­nyk not­ed. Hus­sein had used chem­i­cal weapons before and there was rea­son to believe he would again, he said. 

That proved not to be the case. Just 100 hours after the ground war began, it was over. By Feb. 27, Iraq’s ground forces were in full retreat, and Bush declared a cease-fire and the lib­er­a­tion of Kuwait. 

The Unit­ed States suf­fered 148 com­bat deaths and 145 non-com­bat deaths dur­ing the sev­en-month con­flict. In addi­tion, 467 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers were wound­ed in action.

The Gulf War was a sig­nif­i­cant turn­ing point for the U.S. mil­i­tary in many ways, not the least of which was prov­ing it could fight along­side its Arab allies. 

“The coali­tion proved that West­ern and Arab forces can and will stand togeth­er, and can do so with speed and pre­ci­sion,” Web­ster wrote in his let­ter to the Kuwaitis. 

The first Gulf War also solid­i­fied con­fi­dence that Nation­al Guard and reserve mem­bers could effec­tive­ly fight along­side active duty troops, Mel­nyk said. “We take it for grant­ed today, but before the Gulf War, and in the 20 years since then, the [Guard and] reserves have been part of vir­tu­al­ly every con­tin­gency oper­a­tion, large or small, that the mil­i­tary has engaged in,” he said. 

The war also vin­di­cat­ed changes in mil­i­tary train­ing, doc­trine and struc­ture, and the invest­ment in high-tech equip­ment that took place through­out the 1980s, Joint Force his­to­ri­ans said. It fur­ther val­i­dat­ed laws that strength­ened the role of joint forces and that of the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and com­bat­ant com­man­ders, they said. “The Gulf War marked the emer­gence of the Unit­ed States as the dom­i­nant and con­tin­u­ing force for sta­bil­i­ty in the Per­sian Gulf region,” they wrote. “Per­haps most impor­tant­ly, over­whelm­ing vic­to­ry in Oper­a­tion Desert Storm reaf­firmed America’s faith in its armed forces and, to some extent, in itself, its prod­ucts, per­for­mance, pur­pose and dedication.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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