The Persian Gulf War (2 August 1990 – 28 February 1991), commonly referred to as the Gulf War, also known as the First Gulf War (not to be confused with the Iran–Iraq War) or the Second Gulf War, and by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as The Mother of all Battles, and commonly as Desert Storm for the military response, was the final conflict, which was initiated with United Nations authorization, by a coalition force from 34 nations against Iraq, with the expressed purpose of expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait after its invasion and annexation on 2 August 1990.
The invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi troops that began 2 August 1990 was met with international condemnation, and brought immediate economic sanctions against Iraq by members of the UN Security Council. U.S. President George H. W. Bush deployed American forces to Saudi Arabia and urged other countries to send their own forces to the scene. An array of nations joined the Coalition of the Gulf War. The great majority of the military forces in the coalition were from the United States, with Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and Egypt as leading contributors, in that order. Around US$40 billion of the US$60 billion cost was paid by Saudi Arabia.
The initial conflict to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait began with an aerial bombardment on 17 January 1991. This was followed by a ground assault on 23 February. This was a decisive victory for the coalition forces, who liberated Kuwait and advanced into Iraqi territory. The coalition ceased their advance, and declared a cease-fire 100 hours after the ground campaign started. Aerial and ground combat was confined to Iraq, Kuwait, and areas on the border of Saudi Arabia. However, Iraq launched missiles against coalition military targets in Saudi Arabia.
Throughout much of the Cold War, Iraq had been an ally of the Soviet Union, and there was a history of friction between it and the United States. The U.S. was concerned with Iraq's position on Israeli–Palestinian politics, and its disapproval of the nature of the peace between Israel and Egypt.
The U.S. also disliked Iraqi support for various Arab and Palestinian militant groups such as Abu Nidal, which led to its inclusion on the developing U.S. list of state sponsors of international terrorism on 29 December 1979. The U.S. remained officially neutral after the invasion of Iran, which became the Iran–Iraq War, although it assisted Iraq covertly. In March 1982, however, Iran began a successful counteroffensive - Operation Undeniable Victory, and the United States increased its support for Iraq to prevent Iran from forcing a surrender.
In a U.S. bid to open full diplomatic relations with Iraq, the country was removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Ostensibly this was because of improvement in the regime’s record, although former United States Assistant Secretary of Defense Noel Koch later stated, "No one had any doubts about [the Iraqis'] continued involvement in terrorism... The real reason was to help them succeed in the war against Iran."
With Iraq's new found success in the war, and its rebuff of a peace offer in July, arms sales to Iraq reached a record spike in 1982. An obstacle, however, remained to any potential U.S.-Iraqi relationship - Abu Nidal continued to operate with official support in Baghdad. When Iraqi President Saddam Hussein expelled the group to Syria at the United States' request in November 1983, the Reagan administration sent Donald Rumsfeld to meet President Hussein as a special envoy and to cultivate ties.
By the time the ceasefire with Iran was signed in August 1988, Iraq was virtually bankrupt, with most of its debt owed to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Iraq pressured both nations to forgive the debts, but they refused. Kuwait was also accused by Iraq of exceeding its OPEC quotas and driving down the price of oil, thus further hurting the Iraqi economy.
The collapse in oil prices had a catastrophic impact on the Iraqi economy. The Iraqi Government described it as a form of economic warfare, which it claimed was aggravated by Kuwait slant-drilling across the border into Iraq's Rumaila oil field.
Iraq claimed Kuwait had been a part of the Ottoman Empire's province of Basra. Its ruling dynasty, the al-Sabah family, had concluded a protectorate agreement in 1899 that assigned responsibility for its foreign affairs to Britain. Britain drew the border between the two countries, and deliberately tried to limit Iraq's access to the ocean so that any future Iraqi government would be in no position to threaten Britain's domination of the Persian Gulf. Iraq refused to accept the border, and did not recognize the Kuwaiti government until 1963.
In early July, Iraq complained about Kuwait's behavior, such as not respecting their quota, and openly threatened to take military action. On the 23rd, the CIA reported that Iraq had moved 30,000 troops to the Iraq-Kuwait border, and the U.S. naval fleet in the Persian Gulf was placed on alert. On the 25th, Saddam Hussein met with April Glaspie, an American ambassador, in Baghdad. At that meeting, Glaspie told the Iraqi delegation, "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts." On the 31st, negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait in Jeddah failed violently. On 2 August 1990 Iraq launched the invasion by bombing Kuwait City, the Kuwaiti capital. The main thrust was conducted by commandos deployed by helicopters and boats to attack the city, while other divisions seized the airports and two airbases.
In spite of Iraqi sabre-rattling, Kuwait did not have its forces on alert, and was caught unaware. After two days of intense combat, most of the Kuwaiti Armed Forces were either overrun by the Iraqi Republican Guard, or had escaped to neighboring Saudi Arabia. After the decisive Iraqi victory, Saddam Hussein installed his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid as the governor of Kuwait.
On 23 August 1990 President Saddam appeared on state television with Western hostages to whom he had refused exit visas. In the video, he patted a small British boy named Stuart Lockwood on the back. Saddam then asks, through his interpreter, Sadoun al-Zubaydi, whether Stuart is getting his milk. Saddam went on to say, "We hope your presence as guests here will not be for too long. Your presence here, and in other places, is meant to prevent the scourge of war."
Within hours of the invasion, Kuwaiti and U.S. delegations requested a meeting of the UN Security Council, which passed Resolution 660, condemning the invasion and demanding a withdrawal of Iraqi troops. On 3 August the Arab League passed its own resolution, which called for a solution to the conflict from within the League, and warned against outside intervention. On 6 August UN Resolution 661 placed economic sanctions on Iraq.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 665 followed soon after, which authorized a naval blockade to enforce the economic sanctions against Iraq. It said the “use of measures commensurate to the specific circumstances as may be necessary … to halt all inward and outward maritime shipping in order to inspect and verify their cargoes and destinations and to ensure strict implementation of resolution 661.”
One of the main concerns of the west was the significant threat Iraq posed to Saudi Arabia. Following the conquest of Kuwait, the Iraqi army was within easy striking distance of Saudi oil fields. Control of these fields, along with Kuwaiti and Iraqi reserves, would have given Hussein control over the majority of the world's oil reserves. Iraq also had a number of grievances with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis had lent Iraq some 26 billion dollars during its war with Iran. The Saudis backed Iraq, as they feared the influence of Shia Iran's Islamic revolution on its own Shia minority (most of the Saudi oil fields are in territory populated by Shias). After the war, Saddam felt he should not have to repay the loans due to the help he had given the Saudis by stopping Iran.
Soon after his conquest of Kuwait, Hussein began verbally attacking the Saudi kingdom. He argued that the U.S.-supported Saudi state was an illegitimate and unworthy guardian of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. He combined the language of the Islamist groups that had recently fought in Afghanistan with the rhetoric Iran had long used to attack the Saudis.
Acting on the policy of the Carter Doctrine, and out of fear the Iraqi army could launch an invasion of Saudi Arabia, U.S. President George H. W. Bush quickly announced that the U.S. would launch a "wholly defensive" mission to prevent Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia under the codename Operation Desert Shield. "Operation Desert Shield" began on 7 August 1990 when U.S. troops were sent to Saudi Arabia due also to the request of its monarch, King Fahd who had earlier called for U.S. military assistance. This "wholly defensive" doctrine was quickly abandoned when, on 8 August, Iraq declared Kuwait to be the 19th province of Iraq and Saddam Hussein named his cousin, Ali Hassan Al-Majid as its military-governor.
The United States Navy mobilized two naval battle groups, the aircraft carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, USS Independence and their escorts, to the area, where they were ready by 8 August. A total of 48 U.S. Air Force F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, landed in Saudi Arabia, and immediately commenced round the clock air patrols of the Saudi–Kuwait–Iraq border areas to discourage further Iraqi military advances. The U.S. also sent the battleships USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin to the region. Military buildup continued from there, eventually reaching 543,000 troops, twice the number used in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Much of the material was airlifted or carried to the staging areas via fast sealift ships, allowing a quick buildup.
A series of UN Security Council resolutions and Arab League resolutions were passed regarding the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. One of the most important was Resolution 678, passed on 29 November 1990, which gave Iraq a withdrawal deadline until 15 January 1991, and authorized “all necessary means to uphold and implement Resolution 660,” and a diplomatic formulation authorizing the use of force if Iraq failed to comply.
The United States assembled a coalition of forces to join it in opposing Iraq's aggression, consisting of forces from 34 countries: Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Spain, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States itself.
Although they did not contribute any forces, Japan and Germany made financial contributions totaling $10 billion and $6.6 billion respectively. U.S. troops represented 73% of the coalition’s 956,600 troops in Iraq.
Many of the coalition forces were reluctant to join. Some felt that the war was an internal Arab affair, or did not want to increase U.S. influence in the Middle East. In the end, however, many nations were persuaded by Iraq’s belligerence towards other Arab states, offers of economic aid or debt forgiveness, and threats to withhold aid.
On 12 January 1991 the United States Congress authorized the use of military force to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. The votes were 52-47 in the U.S. Senate, and 250-183 in the U.S. House of Representatives. These were the closest margins in authorizing force by the Congress since the War of 1812. Soon after, the other states in the coalition followed suit.
The United States and the United Nations gave several public justifications for involvement in the conflict, the most prominent being the Iraqi violation of Kuwaiti territorial integrity. In addition, the United States moved to support its ally Saudi Arabia, whose importance in the region, and as a key supplier of oil, made it of considerable geopolitical importance. During a speech in a special joint session of the U.S. Congress given on 11 September 1990, U.S. President George H.W. Bush summed up the reasons with the following remarks: "Within three days, 120,000 Iraqi troops with 850 tanks had poured into Kuwait and moved south to threaten Saudi Arabia. It was then that I decided to act to check that aggression."
The Pentagon claimed that satellite photos showing a buildup of Iraqi forces along the border were the source of this information, but this was later shown to be false. A reporter for the Saint Petersburg Times acquired commercial satellite images made at the time in question, which showed nothing but empty desert.
Other justifications for foreign involvement included Iraq’s history of human rights abuses under President Saddam. Iraq was also known to possess biological weapons and chemical weapons, which Saddam had used against Iranian troops during the Iran–Iraq War and against his own country's Kurdish population in the Al-Anfal Campaign. Iraq was also known to have a nuclear weapons program.
Although there were human rights abuses committed in Kuwait by the invading Iraqi military, the ones best known in the U.S. were inventions of the public relations firm hired by the government of Kuwait to influence U.S. opinion in favor of military intervention. Shortly after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the organisation Citizens for a Free Kuwait was formed in the U.S. It hired the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton for about $11 million, paid by the Kuwaiti government.
Among many other means of influencing U.S. opinion (distributing books on Iraqi atrocities to U.S. soldiers deployed in the region, 'Free Kuwait' T-shirts and speakers to college campuses, and dozens of video news releases to television stations), the firm arranged for an appearance before a group of members of the U.S. Congress in which a woman identifying herself as a nurse working in the Kuwait City hospital described Iraqi soldiers pulling babies out of incubators and letting them die on the floor.
The story was an influence in tipping both the public and Congress towards a war with Iraq: six Congressmen said the testimony was enough for them to support military action against Iraq and seven Senators referenced the testimony in debate. The Senate supported the military actions in a 52-47 vote. A year after the war, however, this allegation was revealed to be a fabrication. The woman who had testified was found to be a member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family, in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S. She had not been living in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion.
The details of the Hill & Knowlton public relations campaign, including the incubator testimony, were published in a John R. MacArthur's Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War (Berkeley, CA: University of CA Press, 1992), and came to wide public attention when an Op-ed by MacArthur was published in the New York Times. This prompted a reexamination by Amnesty International, which had originally promoted an account alleging even greater numbers of babies torn from incubators than the original fake testimony. After finding no evidence to support it, the organisation issued a retraction. President George H. W. Bush then repeated the incubator allegations on television.
At the same time, the Iraqi army committed several well-documented crimes during its occupation of Kuwait, such as the summary execution without trial of three brothers after which their bodies were stacked in a pile and left to decay in a public street. Iraqi troops also ransacked and looted private Kuwaiti homes, one residence was repeatedly defecated in. A resident later commented, "The whole thing was violence for the sake of violence, destruction for the sake of destruction... Imagine a surrealistic painting by Salvador Dalí".
The Gulf War started with an extensive aerial bombing campaign. The coalition flew over 100,000 sorties, dropping 88,500 tons of bombs, and widely destroying military and civilian infrastructure. The air campaign was commanded by USAF Lieutenant General Chuck Horner, who briefly served as Commander-in-Chief - Forward of U.S. Central Command while General Schwarzkopf was still in the United States.
A day after the deadline set in Resolution 678, the coalition launched a massive air campaign, which began the general offensive codenamed Operation Desert Storm. The first priority for Coalition forces was the destruction of the Iraqi air force and anti-aircraft facilities. The sorties were launched mostly from Saudi Arabia and the six Coalition aircraft carrier battle groups (CVBG) in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. The next coalition targets were command and communication facilities. Saddam Hussein had closely micromanaged the Iraqi forces in the Iran–Iraq War, and initiative at lower levels was discouraged. Coalition planners hoped that Iraqi resistance would quickly collapse if deprived of command and control.
The third and largest phase of the air campaign targeted military targets throughout Iraq and Kuwait: Scud missile launchers, weapons research facilities, and naval forces. About one-third of the Coalition airpower was devoted to attacking Scuds, some of which were on trucks and therefore difficult to locate. Some U.S. and British special forces teams had been covertly inserted into western Iraq to aid in the search and destruction of Scuds.
Iraqi antiaircraft defenses, including shoulder-launched ground-to-air missiles, were surprisingly effective against coalition aircraft and the coalition suffered 75 aircraft losses. Iraq also scored a few air-air victories as well, though only two coalition planes were shot down, some came back damaged from air-air combat.
The Iraqi government made no secret that it would attack Israel if invaded. Prior to the start of the war, Tariq Aziz, Iraq's English-speaking Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, was asked in the aftermath of the failed U.S.-Iraq peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland by a reporter. “Mr. Foreign Minister, if war starts...will you attack Israel?” the reporter asked. His response was, “Yes, absolutely, yes.”
Five hours after the first attacks, Iraq's state radio broadcast a voice identified as Saddam Hussein declaring that "The great duel, the mother of all battles has begun. The dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins." Iraq responded by launching eight Iraqi modified Scud missiles into Israel the next day. These missile attacks on Israel were to continue throughout the six weeks of the war.
The Iraqis hoped that, by attacking Israel, they would be drawn into the war. It was expected that many Arab nations would withdraw from the coalition, as they would be reluctant to fight alongside Israel. Israel, at the request of the United States, did not join the war, and all Arab states remained in the coalition. The Scud missiles generally caused light damage, although their potency was felt in a Dhahran missile attack, which killed 28 U.S. soldiers.
The Scud missiles targeting Israel were relatively ineffective, as firing at extreme range resulted in a dramatic reduction in accuracy and payload. Nevertheless, the 39 missiles that landed on Israel caused extensive property damage and two deaths. Israeli civilians were handed out gas masks by the Israeli government, in case any of the missiles targeting the population contained chemical agents, and Israeli citizens were forced to wear these masks and seek shelter whenever an alarm signaling an approaching Scud missile was sounded. The United States deployed two Patriot missile battalions in Israel, and the Netherlands sent one Patriot Squadron in an attempt to deflect the attacks. Allied air forces were also extensively exercised in "Scud hunts" in the Iraqi desert, trying to locate the camouflaged trucks before they fired their missiles at Israel or Saudi Arabia.
Three Scud missiles and a coalition Patriot that malfunctioned hit Ramat Gan in Israel on 22 January 1991, injuring 96 people, and possibly causing the deaths of three elderly people who died of heart attacks.
Israeli policy for the previous forty years had always been retaliation, but after hits by Scud missiles, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir showed restraint and agreed not to retaliate in response to requests from the United States to remain out of the conflict. The U.S. government was concerned that any Israeli action would cost them allies and escalate the conflict, and an air strike by the IAF would have required overflying hostile Jordan or Syria, which could have provoked them to enter the war on Iraq's side or to attack Israel.
On 29 January, Iraqi forces attacked and occupied the lightly defended Saudi city of Khafji with tanks and infantry. The Battle of Khafji ended two days later when the Iraqis were driven back by the United States Marine Corps, supported by Saudi and Qatari forces with close air support and extensive artillery fire. Casualties were heavy on both sides. Eleven Americans were killed in two separate friendly fire incidents, an additional 14 U.S. airmen were killed when an American AC-130 gunship was shot down by an Iraqi SAM missile, and two American soldiers were captured during the battle. Saudi and Qatari forces had a total of 18 dead. Iraqi forces in Khafji had 60–300 dead and 400 captured. Khafji was a strategically important city immediately after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The Iraqi reluctance to commit several armored divisions to the occupation, and its subsequent use of Khafji as a launching pad into the initially lightly defended east of Saudi Arabia is considered by many academics a grave strategic error. Not only would Iraq have secured a majority of Middle Eastern oil supplies, but it would have found itself better able to threaten the subsequent U.S. deployment along superior defensive lines.
The Coalition forces dominated the air with their technological advantages, but the ground forces were considered to be more evenly matched. Coalition forces had the significant advantage of being able to operate under the protection of air supremacy that had been achieved by their air forces before the start of the main ground offensive. Coalition forces also had two key technological advantages:
American decoy attacks by air attacks and naval gunfire the night before the liberation of Kuwait were designed to make the Iraqis believe the main coalition ground attack would focus on Central Kuwait. On 23 February 1991, the 1st Marine Division, 2nd Marine Division, and the 1st Light Armored Infantry crossed into Kuwait and headed toward Kuwait City. They overran the well designed, but poorly defended, Iraqi trenches in the first few hours. The Marines crossed Iraqi barbed wire obstacles and mines, then engaged Iraqi tanks, which surrendered shortly thereafter. Kuwaiti forces soon attacked Kuwait City, to which the Iraqis offered light resistance. The Kuwaitis lost one soldier and one aircraft, and quickly liberated the city. Most Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait opted to surrender rather than fight.
The ground phase of the war was given the official designation Operation Desert Sabre. The first units to move into Iraq were three patrols of the B squadron of the British Special Air Service, call signs Bravo One Zero, Bravo Two Zero, and Bravo Three Zero, in late January. These eight-man patrols landed behind Iraqi lines to gather intelligence on the movements of Scud mobile missile launchers, which could not be detected from the air, as they were hidden under bridges and camouflage netting during the day. Other objectives included the destruction of the launchers and their fiber-optic communications arrays that lay in pipelines and relayed coordinates to the TEL operators that were launching attacks against Israel.
Elements of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army performed a covert Reconnaissance into Iraq on 9 February 1991, followed by one in force on 20 February that destroyed an Iraqi regiment. On 22 February 1991, Iraq agreed to a Soviet-proposed cease-fire agreement. The agreement called for Iraq to withdraw troops to pre-invasion positions within six weeks following a total cease-fire, and called for monitoring of the cease-fire and withdrawal to be overseen by the UN Security Council. The Coalition rejected the proposal, but said that retreating Iraqi forces would not be attacked, and gave twenty-four hours for Iraq to begin withdrawing forces. On 23 February, fighting resulted in the capture of 500 Iraqi soldiers. On 24 February, British and American armoured forces crossed the Iraq/Kuwait border and entered Iraq in large numbers, taking hundreds of prisoners. Iraqi resistance was light, and 4 Americans were killed.
Shortly afterwards, the U.S. VII Corps assembled in full strength and, spearheaded by the 3rd Squadron of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (3/2 ACR), launched an armored attack into Iraq early on 24 February, just to the west of Kuwait, taking Iraqi forces by surprise. Simultaneously, the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps launched a sweeping “left-hook” attack across the largely undefended desert of southern Iraq, led by the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment (3rd ACR) and the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized). The left flank of this movement was protected by the French 6th Light Armoured Division Daguet. The French force quickly overcame the Iraqi 45th Infantry Division, suffering only a small number of casualties and taking a large number of prisoners, and took up blocking positions to prevent an Iraqi counter-attack on the Coalition flank. The right flank of the movement was protected by the British 1st Armoured Division. Once the allies had penetrated deep into Iraqi territory, they turned eastward, launching a flank attack against the elite Republican Guard before it could escape. The battle lasted only a few hours. 50 Iraqi armored vehicles were destroyed, with few coalition losses. On 25 February 1991 however, Iraq launched a scud missile attack on Coalition barracks in Dharan, Saudi Arabia. The missile attack killed 28 American military personnel.
The Coalition advance was much swifter than U.S. generals had expected. On 26 February, Iraqi troops began retreating from Kuwait, after they had set its oil fields on fire (737 oil wells were set on fire). A long convoy of retreating Iraqi troops formed along the main Iraq-Kuwait highway. Although they were retreating, this convoy was bombed so extensively by Coalition air forces that it came to be known as the Highway of Death. Hundreds of Iraqi troops were killed. Forces from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France continued to pursue retreating Iraqi forces over the border and back into Iraq, eventually moving to within 150 miles (240 km) of Baghdad before withdrawing from the Iraqi border.
One hundred hours after the ground campaign started, on 28 February, President Bush declared a cease-fire, and he also declared that Kuwait had been liberated.
Although it was said in Western media at the time that Iraqi troops numbered approximately 545,000 to 600,000, most experts today believe that both the qualitative and quantitative descriptions of the Iraqi army at the time were exaggerated, as they included both temporary and auxiliary support elements. Many of the Iraqi troops were young, under-resourced, and poorly trained conscripts.
The Coalition committed 540,000 troops, and a further 100,000 Turkish troops were deployed along the Turkish-Iraqi border. This caused a significant force dilution of the Iraqi military by forcing it to deploy its forces along all its borders. This allowed the main thrust by the U.S. to possess not only a significant technological advantage, but also a numerical superiority.
The widespread support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war equipped Iraq with military equipment from most major world arms dealers. This resulted in a lack of standardization in this large heterogeneous force, which additionally suffered from poor training and poor motivation. The majority of Iraqi armored forces still used old Chinese Type 59s and Type 69s, Soviet-made T-55s from the 1950s and 1960s, and some T-72s from the 1970s in 1991. These machines were not equipped with up-to-date equipment, such as thermal sights or laser rangefinders, and their effectiveness in modern combat was very limited. The Iraqis failed to find an effective countermeasure to the thermal sights and sabot rounds used by the Coalition tanks. This equipment enabled them to engage and destroy Iraqi tanks from more than three times the range that Iraqi tanks could engage coalition tanks. The Iraqi crews used old, cheap steel penetrators against the advanced Chobham Armour of the U.S. and British tanks, with ineffective results. The Iraqis also failed to utilize the advantage that could be gained from using urban warfare—fighting within Kuwait City— which could have inflicted significant casualties on the attacking forces. Urban combat reduces the range at which fighting occurs, and can negate some of the technological advantages of well-equipped forces.
The Iraqis also tried to use Soviet military doctrine, but the implementation failed due to the lack of skill of their commanders, and the preventive coalition air strikes on communication centers and bunkers.
In Iraqi territory that was occupied by the coalition, a peace conference was held where a cease fire agreement was negotiated and signed by both sides. At the conference, Iraq was approved to fly armed helicopters on their side of the temporary border, ostensibly for government transit due to the damage done to civilian infrastructure. Soon after, these helicopters and much of the Iraqi armed forces were used to fight a Shi'ite uprising in the south. The rebellions were encouraged by an airing of "The Voice of Free Iraq" on 2 February 1991, which was broadcast from a CIA run radio station out of Saudi Arabia. The Arabic service of the Voice of America supported the uprising by stating that the rebellion was large, and that they soon would be liberated from Saddam.
In the North, Kurdish leaders took American statements that they would support an uprising to heart, and began fighting, hoping to trigger a coup d'état. However, when no American support came, Iraqi generals remained loyal to Saddam and brutally crushed the Kurdish uprising. Millions of Kurds fled across the mountains to Kurdish areas of Turkey and Iran. These events later resulted in no-fly zones being established in both the North and the South of Iraq. In Kuwait, the Emir was restored, and suspected Iraqi collaborators were repressed. Eventually, over 400,000 people were expelled from the country, including a large number of Palestinians (due to their support of, and collaboration with, Saddam).
There was some criticism of the Bush administration, as they chose to allow Saddam Hussein to remain in power instead of pushing on to capture Baghdad and overthrowing his government. In their co-written 1998 book, A World Transformed, Bush and Brent Scowcroft argued that such a course would have fractured the alliance, and would have had many unnecessary political and human costs associated with it.
I would guess if we had gone in there, we would still have forces in Baghdad today. We'd be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home.
And the final point that I think needs to be made is this question of casualties. I don't think you could have done all of that without significant additional U.S. casualties, and while everybody was tremendously impressed with the low cost of the (1991) conflict, for the 146 Americans who were killed in action and for their families, it wasn't a cheap war. And the question in my mind is, how many additional American casualties is Saddam (Hussein) worth? And the answer is, not that damned many. So, I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the President made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.
Instead of a greater involvement of its own military, the United States hoped that Saddam Hussein would be overthrown in an internal coup d'état. The Central Intelligence Agency used its assets in Iraq to organize a revolt, but the Iraqi government defeated the effort.
On 10 March 1991, 540,000 American troops began to move out of the Persian Gulf.
Members of the Coalition included Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Korea, Spain, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Germany and Japan provided financial assistance and donated military hardware, but did not send direct military assistance. This later became known as "checkbook diplomacy". Israel was not actively in the war, despite Iraqi missile strikes on its territory, due to a direct request from the United States to remain neutral. India extended military support to the United States in the form of refueling facilities situated in the Arabian Sea, but did not send any military forces into battle.
The United Kingdom committed the largest contingent of any European nation that participated in the combat operations of the war. Operation Granby was the codename for the operations in the Persian Gulf. British Army regiments (mainly with the British 1st Armoured Division), Royal Air Force squadrons and Royal Navy vessels were mobilized in the Gulf. The Royal Air Force, using various aircraft, operated from airbases in Saudi Arabia. Almost 2,500 armoured vehicles and 43,000 troops were shipped for action.
Chief Royal Navy vessels deployed to the gulf included a number of Broadsword-class frigates, and Sheffield-class destroyers, other RN and RFA ships were also deployed. The light aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal was not deployed to the Gulf area, but was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea.
The second largest European contingent was France, which committed 18,000 troops. Operating on the left flank of the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps, the main French army force was the 6th Light Armoured Division, including troops from the French Foreign Legion. Initially, the French operated independently under national command and control, but coordinated closely with the Americans, Saudis and CENTCOM. In January, the Division was placed under the tactical control of the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps. France also deployed several combat aircraft and naval units. The French called their contribution Opération Daguet.
Canada was one of the first nations to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and it quickly agreed to join the U.S.-led coalition. In August 1990, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney committed the Canadian Forces to deploy the destroyers HMCS Terra Nova and HMCS Athabaskan to join the maritime interdiction force. The supply ship HMCS Protecteur was also sent to aid the gathering coalition logistics forces in the Persian Gulf. A fourth ship, HMCS Huron, arrived in-theater after hostilities had ceased and visited Kuwait.
Following the UN authorized use of force against Iraq, the Canadian Forces deployed a CF-18 Hornet squadron with support personnel, as well as a field hospital to deal with casualties from the ground war. When the air war began, Canada's CF-18s were integrated into the coalition force and were tasked with providing air cover and attacking ground targets. This was the first time since the Korean War that the Canadian military had participated in offensive combat operations.
Australia contributed a Naval Task Group, which formed part of the multi-national fleet in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, under Operation Damask. In addition, medical teams were deployed aboard a U.S. hospital ship, and a naval clearance diving team took part in de-mining Kuwait’s port facilities following the end of combat operations.
The increased importance of air attacks from both warplanes and cruise missiles led to much controversy over the number of civilian deaths caused during the initial stages of the war. Within the first 24 hours of the war, more than 1,000 sorties were flown, many against targets in Baghdad. The city was the target of heavy bombing, as it was the seat of power for President Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi forces' command and control. This ultimately led to substantial civilian casualties.
During the bombing campaign prior to the ground war, many aerial attacks led to civilian casualties. In one particularly notable incident, stealth planes bombed a bunker in Amirya, causing the deaths of 200-400 civilians, who were taking refuge there at the time. Scenes of burned and mutilated bodies were subsequently broadcast, and controversy raged over the status of the bunker, with some stating that it was a civilian shelter, while others contended that it was a center of Iraqi military operations, and that the civilians had been deliberately moved there to act as human shields.
The exact number of Iraqi combat casualties is unknown, but it is believed to have been heavy. Some estimate that Iraq sustained between 20,000 and 35,000 fatalities. A report commissioned by the U.S. Air Force, estimated 10,000-12,000 Iraqi combat deaths in the air campaign, and as many as 10,000 casualties in the ground war. This analysis is based on Iraqi prisoner of war reports.
Saddam Hussein's government gave high civilian casualty figures in order to draw support from the Islamic countries. The Iraqi government claimed that 2,300 civilians died during the air campaign. According to the Project on Defense Alternatives study, 3,664 Iraqi civilians, and between 20,000 and 26,000 military personnel, were killed in the conflict, while 75,000 Iraqi soldiers were wounded.
The DoD reports that U.S. forces suffered 148 battle-related deaths (35 to friendly fire), with one pilot listed as MIA (his remains were found and identified in August 2009). A further 145 Americans died in non-combat accidents. The UK suffered 47 deaths (9 to friendly fire), France two, and the Arab countries, not including Kuwait, suffered 37 deaths (18 Saudis, 10 Egyptians, 6 UAE, and 3 Syrians). At least 605 Kuwaiti soldiers were still missing 10 years after their capture.
The largest single loss of life among Coalition forces happened on 25 February 1991, when an Iraqi Al-Hussein missile hit an American military barrack in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 28 U.S. Army Reservists from Pennsylvania. In all, 190 coalition troops were killed by Iraqi fire during the war, 113 of whom were American, out of a total of 358 coalition deaths. Another 44 soldiers were killed, and 57 wounded, by friendly fire. 145 soldiers died of exploding munitions, or non-combat accidents.
The number of coalition wounded in combat seems to have been 776, including 458 Americans.
However, as of the year 2000, 183,000 U.S. veterans of the Gulf War, more than a quarter of the U.S. troops who participated in War, have been declared permanently disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs. About 30% of the 700,000 men and women who served in U.S. forces during the Gulf War still suffer an array of serious symptoms whose causes are not fully understood.
190 Coalition troops were killed by Iraqi combatants, the rest of the 379 coalition deaths being from friendly fire or accidents. This number was much lower than expected. Among the American dead were three female soldiers.
This is a list of Coalition troops killed by country.
While the death toll among Coalition forces engaging Iraqi combatants was very low, a substantial number of deaths were caused by accidental attacks from other allied units. Of the 148 American troops who died in battle, 24% were killed by friendly fire, a total of 35 service personnel. A further 11 died in detonations of allied munitions. Nine British service personnel were killed in a friendly fire incident when a United States Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attacked a group of two Warrior IFVs.
Forty-two Scud missiles were fired by Iraq into Israel during the seven weeks of the war. Two Israeli civilians died from these attacks, and approximately 230 were injured. Of the reported injuries, 10 were considered moderate injuries, while one was considered a severe injury. Several others suffered fatal heart attacks immediately following the missile strikes. Israel was ready to respond with military force to these attacks, but agreed when asked not to by the U.S. Government, who feared that if Israel became involved, the other Arab nations would either desert from the coalition or join Iraq. Israel was given two batteries of MIM-104 Patriot missiles for the protection of civilians. The Royal Netherlands Air Force also deployed Patriot missiles in both Turkey and Israel to counter the Scud threat. The Dutch Ministry of Defense later stated that the military use of the Patriot missile system was largely ineffective, but its psychological value was high. It has been suggested that the sturdy construction techniques used in Israeli cities, coupled with the fact that Scuds were only launched at night, played an important role in limiting the number deaths and injuries from Scud attacks.
In addition to those fired into Israel, 44 Scud missiles were fired into Saudi Arabia, and one missile was fired at Bahrain and at Qatar. The missiles were fired at both civilian and military targets. One Saudi civilian was killed, and 65 others were injured. No injuries were reported in Bahrain or Qatar.
On 25 February 1991, a scud missile hit a U.S. Army barracks of the 14th Quatermaster Detachment, out of Greensburg, PA, stationed in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia killing 28 soldiers and injuring over 100.
Many returning coalition soldiers reported illnesses following their participation in the Gulf War, a phenomenon known as Gulf War syndrome or Gulf War illness. There has been widespread speculation and disagreement about the causes of the illness and the reported birth defects. Some factors considered as possibilities include exposure to depleted uranium, chemical weapons, anthrax vaccines given to deploying soldiers, and/or infectious diseases. Major Michael Donnelly, a former USAF officer during the Gulf War, helped publicize the syndrome and advocated for veterans' rights in this regard.
Depleted uranium (DU) was used in the Gulf War in tank kinetic energy penetrators and 20–30 mm cannon ordnance. DU is a pyrophoric, genotoxic, and teratogenic heavy metal. Many have cited its use during the First Gulf War as a contributing factor to a number of instances of health issues in both veterans of the conflict and surrounding civilian populations. However, scientific opinion on the risk is mixed.
On the night of 26 February and 27, 1991, some defeated Iraqi forces began leaving Kuwait on the main highway north of Al Jahra in a column of some 1,400 vehicles. A patrolling E-8 Joint STARS aircraft observed the retreating forces and relayed the information to the air operations center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy jets pursued and destroyed the convoy, subjecting it to sustained bombing for several hours.
Another incident during the war highlighted the question of large-scale Iraqi combat deaths. This was the “bulldozer assault”, wherein two brigades from the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized) were faced with a large and complex trench network, as part of the heavily fortified "Saddam Hussein Line." After some deliberation, they opted to use anti-mine plows mounted on tanks and combat earthmovers to simply plow over and bury alive the defending Iraqi soldiers. One newspaper story reported that the U.S. commanders estimated thousands of Iraqi soldiers surrendered, escaping live burial during the two-day assault February 24–25, 1991. The estimated 8,000 Iraqi defenders was probably greatly inflated. After the war, the Iraqi government claimed to have found 44 bodies. In his book The Wars Against Saddam, John Simpson alleges that U.S. forces attempted to cover up this incident.
During the conflict coalition aircrew shot down over Iraq were displayed as POWs on TV, most with visible signs of abuse. Amongst several testimonies to poor treatment, Royal Air Force Tornado crew John Nichol and John Peters have both alleged that they were tortured during this time. Nichol and Peters were forced to make statements against the war in front of television cameras.
Since the Gulf war, the U.S. has had a continued presence of 5,000 troops stationed in Saudi Arabia - a figure that rose to 10,000 during the 2003 conflict in Iraq. Operation Southern Watch enforced the no-fly zones over southern Iraq set up after 1991, and the country's oil exports through the shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf are protected by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain.
Since Saudi Arabia houses the holiest sites in Islam (Mecca and Medina) — many Muslims were upset at the permanent military presence. The continued presence of U.S. troops after the Gulf War in Saudi Arabia was one of the stated motivations behind the September 11th terrorist attacks, the Khobar Towers bombing, as well, the date chosen for the 1998 United States embassy bombings (7 August), was eight years to the day that American troops were sent to Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden interpreted the Prophet Muhammad as banning the "permanent presence of infidels in Arabia". In 1996, Bin Laden issued a fatwa, calling for American troops to get out of Saudi Arabia. In the December 1999 interview with Rahimullah Yusufzai, bin Laden said he felt that Americans were "too near to Mecca" and considered this a provocation to the entire Muslim world.
On 6 August 1990, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 661 which imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, providing for a full trade embargo, excluding medical supplies, food and other items of humanitarian necessity, these to be determined by the Security Council sanctions committee. From 1991 until 2003 the effects of government policy and sanctions regime led to hyperinflation, widespread poverty and malnutrition.
During the latter part of the 1990s the UN considered relaxing the sanctions imposed because of the hardships suffered by ordinary Iraqis. According to UN estimates, between 500,000 and 1.2 million children died during the years of the sanctions. The United States used its veto in the UN Security Council to block the proposal to lift the sanctions because of the continued failure of Iraq to verify disarmament. However, an oil for food program was established in 1996 to ease the effects of sanctions.
On 23 January, Iraq dumped 400 million gallons of crude oil into the Persian Gulf, causing the largest oil spill in history. It was reported as a deliberate natural resources attack to keep U.S. Marine forces from coming ashore (Missouri and Wisconsin had shelled Failaka Island during the war to reinforce the idea that there would be an amphibious assault attempt). While this was widely publicized it was later discovered that the photo readers had mistaken plankton fields and seagrass beds for floating oil. The actual spill was 1.5 million barrels, but still the greatest spill ever. About 30-40% of this came from Allied raids on Iraqi coastal targets.
The cost of the war to the United States was calculated by the United States Congress to be $61.1 billion. About $52 billion of that amount was paid by different countries around the world: $36 billion by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf States; $16 billion by Germany and Japan (which sent no combat forces due to their constitutions). About 25% of Saudi Arabia's contribution was paid in the form of in-kind services to the troops, such as food and transportation. U.S. troops represented about 74% of the combined force, and the global cost was therefore higher.
The Persian Gulf War was a heavily televised war. For the first time people all over the world were able to watch live pictures of missiles hitting their targets and fighters taking off from aircraft carriers. Allied forces were keen to demonstrate the accuracy of their weapons.
In the United States, the "big three" network anchors led the network news coverage of the war: ABC's Peter Jennings, CBS's Dan Rather, and NBC's Tom Brokaw were anchoring their evening newscasts when air strikes began on 16 January 1991. ABC News correspondent Gary Shepard, reporting live from Baghdad, told Jennings of the quietness of the city. But, moments later, Shepard was back on the air as flashes of light were seen on the horizon and tracer fire was heard on the ground.
On CBS, viewers were watching a report from correspondent Allen Pizzey, who was also reporting from Baghdad, when the war began. Rather, after the report was finished, announced that there were unconfirmed reports of flashes in Baghdad and heavy air traffic at bases in Saudi Arabia. On the "NBC Nightly News", correspondent Mike Boettcher reported unusual air activity in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Moments later, Brokaw announced to his viewers that the air attack had begun.
Still, it was CNN which gained the most popularity for their coverage, and indeed its wartime coverage is often cited as one of the landmark events in the development of the network. CNN correspondents John Holliman and Peter Arnett and CNN anchor Bernard Shaw relayed audio reports from the Al-Rashid Hotel as the air strikes began. The network had previously convinced the Iraqi government to allow installation of a permanent audio circuit in their makeshift bureau. When the telephones of all of the other Western TV correspondents went dead during the bombing, CNN was the only service able to provide live reporting. After the initial bombing, Arnett remained behind and was, for a time, the only American TV correspondent reporting from Iraq.
Newspapers all over the world also covered the war and Time magazine published a special issue dated 28 January 1991, the headline "WAR IN THE GULF" emblazoned on the cover over a picture of Baghdad taken as the war began.
U.S. policy regarding media freedom was much more restrictive than in the Vietnam War. The policy had been spelled out in a Pentagon document entitled Annex Foxtrot. Most of the press information came from briefings organised by the military. Only selected journalists were allowed to visit the front lines or conduct interviews with soldiers. Those visits were always conducted in the presence of officers, and were subject to both prior approval by the military and censorship afterward. This was ostensibly to protect sensitive information from being revealed to Iraq. This policy was heavily influenced by the military's experience with the Vietnam War, in which public opposition within the United States grew throughout the course of the war.
At the same time, the coverage of this war was new in its instantaneousness. About halfway through the war, Iraq's government decided to allow live satellite transmissions from the country by Western news organizations, and U.S. journalists returned en masse to Baghdad. Tom Aspell of NBC, Bill Blakemore of ABC, and Betsy Aaron of CBS filed reports, subject to acknowledged Iraqi censorship. Throughout the war, footage of incoming missiles was broadcast almost immediately.
A British crew from CBS News (David Green and Andy Thompson), equipped with satellite transmission equipment traveled with the front line forces and, having transmitted live TV pictures of the fighting en route, arrived the day before the forces in Kuwait City, broadcasting live television from the city and covering the entrance of the Arab forces the following day.
Precision-guided munitions, such as the United States Air Force guided missile AGM-130, were heralded as key in allowing military strikes to be made with a minimum of civilian casualties compared to previous wars, although they were not used as often as more traditional, less accurate bombs. Specific buildings in downtown Baghdad could be bombed whilst journalists in their hotels watched cruise missiles fly by.
Precision-guided munitions amounted to approximately 7.4% of all bombs dropped by the coalition. Other bombs included cluster bombs, which disperse numerous submunitions, and daisy cutters, 15,000-pound bombs which can disintegrate everything within hundreds of yards.
Global Positioning System units were important in enabling coalition units to navigate easily across the desert.
Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and satellite communication systems were also important. Two examples of this is the U.S. Navy E-2 Hawkeye and the U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry. Both were used in command and control area of operations. These systems provided essential communications links between the ground forces, air forces, and the navy. It is one the many reasons why the air war was dominated by the Coalition Forces.
The role of Iraq's Scud missiles featured prominently in the war. Scud is a tactical ballistic missile that the Soviet Union developed and deployed among the forward deployed Red Army divisions in East Germany. The role of the Scuds which were armed with nuclear and chemical warheads was to destroy command, control, and communication facilities and delay full mobilisation of Western German and Allied Forces in Germany. It could also be used to directly target ground forces.
Scud missiles utilise inertial guidance which operates for the duration that the engines operate. Iraq used Scud missiles, launching them into both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Some missiles caused extensive casualties, while others caused little damage. Concerns were raised of possible chemical or biological warheads on these rockets, but if they existed they were not used.
Scud missiles are not as effective at delivering chemical payloads as is commonly believed because intense heat during the Scud's flight at approximately Mach 5 denatures most of the chemical payload. Chemical weapons are inherently better suited to being delivered by cruise missiles or fighter bombers. The Scud is best suited to delivering tactical nuclear warheads, a role for which it is as capable today as it was when it was first developed.
The U.S. Patriot missile was used for the first time in combat. The U.S. military claimed a high effectiveness against Scuds at the time. Later estimates of the Patriot's effectiveness range widely due to the fact initial testing proved less confidence inspiring than real life combat testing. The Dutch Ministry of Defense (The Netherlands also sent Patriot missiles to protect civilians in Israel and Turkey), for example, later disputed this claim. Further, there is at least one incident of a software error causing a Patriot missile's failure to engage an incoming Scud, resulting in deaths.
Unclassified evidence on Scud interception is lacking. The higher estimates are based on the percentage of Scud warheads which were known to have impacted and exploded compared to the number of Scud missiles launched, but other factors such as duds, misses and impacts which were not reported confound these. Some Scud variations were re-engineered in a manner outside their original tolerance, and said to have frequently failed or broken up in flight.
The lowest estimates are typically based upon the number of interceptions where there is proof that the warhead was hit by at least one missile, but due to the way the Al-Hussein (Scud derivative) missiles broke up in flight, it was often hard to tell which piece was the warhead, and there were few radar tracks which were actually stored which could be analyzed later. Their performance will not be known for many years. Both the U.S. Army and the missile manufacturers maintain the Patriot delivered a "miracle performance" in the Gulf War.