The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on 2 August 1990 surprised the world, but the U.S. response was quick and decisive. Fears that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein would continue south to seize the rich oil fields of Saudi Arabia galvanized the Gulf nations to ask for U.S. help. President George H. Bush declared that he was drawing a "line in the sand" to stop Saddam.
Operation DESERT SHIELD, the defense of Saudi Arabia, began on 7 August. The XVIII Airborne Corps, with its elite 82d Airborne Division, began to move to Saudi Arabia the next day, beginning a buildup of combat power in the region that would peak at over 600,000 U.S. personnel.
In rapid succession, the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized), the 197th Infantry Brigade, and the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) moved to the Gulf. The U.S. Army Reserve began its largest mobilization since the Korean War. By early November, with the addition of the 1st Cavalry Division (Armored), the 2d Armored Division’s 1st (or Tiger) Brigade, and the 3d ACR (armored cavalry regiment), a lethal force of over 100,000 soldiers was assembled for the defense of Saudi Arabia.
On 8 November 1990, President Bush announced that the U.S. VII Corps would move to the Gulf from its bases in Europe and the United States. This heavy corps, consisting of the 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), the 1st and 3d Armored Divisions, and the 2d ACR, would give the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., the armored fist he needed to take the offensive.
Early on 17 January 1991, Operation DESERT STORM began with a series of coordinated air strikes. Operating almost with impunity, U.S. and allied air forces pummeled Iraqi positions and supply lines. Massive B–52 strikes, and almost equally devastating psychological warfare leaflet drops, did much to sap the Iraqis’ will to fight.
Finally, on 24 February, the ground war began. Hours before the start of the offensive, special reconnaissance teams from the 5th and 3d Special Forces Groups (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, flying out of King Khalid Military City on specially configured helicopters, were sent deep behind Iraqi lines to gather intelligence. Kicking off the main attack in bad weather, the 101st Airborne Division quickly made an end run around the open right flank of the Iraqi Army. Simultaneously, U.S. and allied forces in the east attacked directly north toward Kuwait City. The Tiger Brigade, supporting Marine Corps units, pushed directly north from Saudi Arabia through blazing Kuwaiti oil fields set on fire by retreating Iraqis. By midafternoon on the first day of battle, U.S. elements of the 101st and 82d Airborne Divisions were deep into Iraq, in some cases just twenty-four miles south of the Euphrates River.
Due to the speed of the allied advance, the VII Corps began its attack ahead of schedule early in the afternoon on the twenty-fourth. Penetrating the minefields to their front, U.S. soldiers overran Iraqi positions within a few hours. The Iraqi troops—tired, hungry, and physically and psychologically battered—began surrendering in droves. The next day the 1st Armored Division quickly crushed the Iraqi 26th Infantry Division as VII Corps pivoted to the east.
The 24th Infantry Division’s heavy armor moved rapidly to exploit the initial air assaults of the 101st and 82d Airborne Divisions. Linking up with the 101st battle positions, the 24th Division moved the 200 miles north to the Euphrates River by noon on the twenty-sixth, blocking the Iraqi retreat.
In the most decisive actions of the war, the VII Corps, moving directly east with three heavy divisions abreast, attacked the elite Iraqi Republican Guard units. Late in the afternoon on the twenty-sixth, the VII Corps hit elements of the Tawakalna Division in the battle of 73 Easting. In quick succession, the 2d ACR, 1st and 3d Armored Divisions, and the 1st Infantry Division smashed through the Tawakalna Division. Overwhelming the enemy with accurate tank fire and assisted by deadly Apache helicopter gunships, the VII Corps hit the Medina Division in the early afternoon of the twenty-seventh. At Medina Ridge, an attempted Iraqi ambush of the 1st Armored Division ended with the destruction of over 300 enemy tanks.
The battles of DESERT STORM soon wound down against crumbling resistance. With the VII Corps poised to crush the remainder of the Republican Guard units, only the declaration of a cease-fire saved the Iraqis. When, two days after the cease-fire, elements of the Republican Guard Hammurabi Division engaged the 1st Brigade, 24th Infantry Division, just north of Highway 8, the Iraqis lost over 185 armored vehicles and 400 trucks within a few hours.
In less than 100 hours, U.S. and allied ground forces in Iraq and Kuwait decisively defeated a battle-hardened and dangerous enemy. During air and ground operations, U.S. and allied forces destroyed over 3,000 tanks, 1,400 armored personnel carriers, and 2,200 artillery pieces along with countless other vehicles. This was achieved at a cost to the United States of 98 soldiers killed in action and 126 killed in nonbattle accidents.
With Kuwait liberated, U.S. forces immediately turned to humanitarian missions. They sorted out refugees, assisted the Kuwaitis in reoccupying their city, and helped them begin the long process of rebuilding. U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Corps of Engineer units set up food, water, and fuel distribution points and medical clinics. The American instrument of war became a force for peace. The long struggle of reconstruction was just beginning as the victorious U.S. Army combat units headed home.
page created 27 December 2000
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