|Operation Desert Shield
August 7, 1990 through January 16, 1991
It is hard to pick a specific reason for the invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqis. Some cited the British indifference to middle east traditions when the United Kingdom carved up the present day Arab world. Others point to the Kuwaitis flaunting of their wealth in the face of many poorer neighbors. Still others see it as a natural result of Saddam Hussein's "bully-like" nature. Nevertheless, there are a few specific events that took place in mid-1990 that are important in understanding Operation Desert Shield/Storm.
On July 17, 1990 Saddam Hussein accused Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates of flooding the world oil market. In addition, he singled out Kuwait for the production of oil from a disputed supply, the Rumaila oil field which ran beneath both countries. To bolster his threats, Iraqi military units were placed on alert and moved toward the Kuwait border. While many saw this as merely a negotiating ploy, Secretary General Javier Perez De Cuellar recognized the possibility for war and called on all sides to calm down and demobilize their forces.
For a time, it appeared as if there would be no invasion. On July 25th, the now famous meeting took place between U.S. ambassador April Glaspie and Saddam Hussein. Throughout the conflict, many opponents of U.S. policy said Ms. Glaspie's response at this meeting led to the invasion by Iraqi forces. However, after the war, Ms. Glaspie testified that she informed Saddam Hussein the United States would not sit idly by if a military operation was undertaken, although the U.S. did not have much of an opinion in "Arab-Arab" conflicts. Apparently, Saddam Hussein misjudged this, as he would many other things, as a signal the United States would not interfere in an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Talks between Iraq and Kuwait collapsed on August 1st.
On August 2nd, the first Iraqi tanks crossed in Kuwait, easily passing by the Kuwaiti defenders and forcing the Emir into exile. Worldwide condemnation of the Iraqi action rang out from the capitals of the world, but it was too late to change the course of Iraqi action. The Kuwait known to the world as a rich and prosperous moderate Arab country was now gone. President Bush immediately took action to protest the invasion. Warships currently on station in the Gulf were bolstered and U.S. forces were put under a higher state of alert. Using emergency powers, the President signed two executive orders freezing those country's assets and later modified this measure to bar trade between United States companies and the Iraqis.
Bush then dispatched his top foreign affairs and defense advisors to the capitals of the world. Both Secretary Cheney and Baker were sent overseas to work on developing a cohesive and unified world response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. President Bush went so far as to say "this aggression will not stand." While in Saudi Arabia, Secretary Cheney presented Saudi King Fahd with evidence the Iraqis were massing on his country's border for a possible invasion against his oil fields. Some reports indicate that Iraqi tanks had actually crossed over the border, which is not hard to believe when the only territorial division is a line on a map in some library, not a demarcation in the sand. The Saudis, which have been purchasing American military equipment for the last decade, were well-equipped, but not militarily capable of defending themselves against the overwhelming Iraqi forces. They would need help, and in a big way.
On August 7th, they formally requested assistance from the United States. Cheney proposed a massive deployment of U.S. forces. The 82nd Airborne and the 24th Mechanized Infantry to start, along with several air wings of U.S. planes. These forces were the remnants of the Carter designated "Rapid Deployment Force." They could be on the way in hours and on station in a matter of weeks. The size of this movement would convince the Saudis and Iraqis that the United States was serious about helping its ally in the Gulf.
Secretary Baker met with Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko met to hammer out a diplomatic response between the two superpowers. The United States was successful in obtaining the Soviet's opposition to the Kuwait invasion and a joint communique was issued calling for action against the Iraqis.
At the United Nations, resolutions condemning the Iraqi invasion and instituting a trade embargo on Iraq were quickly passed through the security council. In previous decades, the Soviet veto of these measures would have ended any hope of international pressure to pull the Iraqis out of Kuwait. But given the new relationship between the Soviet and the United States, it was possible to forge an alliance against Saddam Hussein.
Militarily, Kuwait and Iraq fall into an area of the world the United States assigns to a command organization called CENTCOM. CENTCOM's commander-in-chief was General Norman Schwartzkopf, who, by coincidence, had just run a war game scenario for the invasion of Kuwait. In this plan, the U.S. 82nd Airborne, combined with the 24 Infantry (Mechanized) would be initially deployed along with Air Force tactical fighter wings to support the Saudi government against hostile aggressors. Little did he know that this very plan would soon be put to the test. Speaking before the nation on August 7, President Bush announced his decision to dispatch troops and planes to defend the Saudi kingdom.
As he spoke, elements of the 82 Airborne were already on planes for the long flight overseas. The carrier battle group headed up by the U.S.S. Independence was ordered to steam from the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf and the U.S.S. Enterprise and U.S.S. Saratoga with their support groups were told to steam toward the Gulf region. At Langley Air Force Base, the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing was alerted and dispatched to Saudi Arabia in the opening minutes of the now codenamed "Operation Desert Shield."
These initial deployments were supported by Marine units from around the world. In the next few days, the old axiom "amateurs talk tactics, professional talk logistics" demonstrated the skill and professionalism of the American military. The Military Airlift Command, and later the sealift forces, began the most incredible and massive transport operation ever conducted. Over 90% of the United State's military long-range airlift was in use and all eight of the Navy's fast sealift, plus dozens of other navy vessels pressed into transport service. The Marine Corps pre-positioned ship program, material and munitions in ships ready to be sent to anywhere in the world, was activated from bases in Guam, Diego Garcia and Virginia to meet the Marines who were coming in by air. The scope and size of Operation Desert Shield soon became apparent.
Some 225,00 U.S. troops were to be deployed in a test of the U.S.'s ability to rapidly deploy forces into a region. F-15's, F-16's, F-111's and F-117's were sent to the region along with a variety of support and other aircraft. Marines and firemen, cooks and anti-aircraft batteries were being called upon from around the world to support the largest U.S. deployment since Vietnam. During the height of the movement, planes were landing every ten minutes in Saudi Arabia, forming what controllers called an "aluminum bridge" between out two countries. In a matter of weeks, the airlift of U.S. forces into the Gulf passed the tonnage figures for the Berlin Airlift of 1949.
On August 16th, the United States had a Naval force in place of such a size that interceptions could begin to enforce U.N. resolutions on the embargo of trade with Iraq. The next day, two U.S. warships intercepted and interrogated an Iraqi vessel on its cargo and destination. This was the first of thousands of interceptions, some of which led to U.S. and allied ships forcing Iraqi and other vessels to return to their ports.
By August 17th, a number of units were on the move toward the Gulf. The 101st Airborne, the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigades, the 1st Cavalry Division, the 2nd Armored Division, the 3rd Armored Cavalry, the U.S.S. Wisconsin, dozens of wings of fighters, bombers and transports were heading to the Gulf. Some who questioned our policy in the Gulf felt this deployment was overkill, but General Norman Schwartzkopf had learned from Vietnam the problems of gradual escalation.
Also on August 17th, the military activated stage 1 of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet and some 37 civilian airliners pressed into military service. Inside Iraq and Kuwait, a number of American civilians were being held by the Iraqis to discourage the use of military forces. These hostages, called "human shields" were placed at several strategic military bases around the country so that they would be killed by U.S. bombs. The release of these hostages came at a slow pace with many famous personalities traveling to Iraq and leaving with a few hostages here and there. It was not until December 6th that all hostages were released, the result of an order issued by Saddam Hussein.
On August 22nd, the President implemented the first call-up of Guard and Reserve forces since the Vietnam war. This action was made necessary by the Pentagon's policy of integrating essential units in wartime with a mix of active and reserve components. The military had designed this policy to ensure that any war we would enter into would require a massive mobilization and support. Inside Kuwait tales of horror and tragedy were slowing coming to public light. Reports, later challenged for accuracy, said Iraqis were destroying the Kuwaiti infrastructure, killing infants in hospitals, torturing citizens on the streets, and looting and pillaging the riches of the conquered Arab kingdom.
Economic sanctions begin to take hold and food became more difficult to acquire. Throughout the first months, allied intelligence showed a marked increase in enemy forces in the Kuwaiti theater of operations. The initial invasion force had been doubled in a matter of weeks and by October, some 40000Iraqis were facing off against a U.S. force of about 240,00.
On November 8th, President Bush moved to change the face of the Gulf Crisis. He announced that U.S. forces in the region would be nearly doubled to give American commanders the "offensive" option, should it become necessary to enforce the U.N. sanctions. This additional deployment will rely heavily on U.S. forces in the European theater, bringing in the 7th Corps, along with the 1st Armored Division stationed in Kansas, also known as the Big Red One.
The United States was not interested in a unilateral declaration of war against the Iraqis. President Bush, a former ambassador to the United Nations, recognized the value of the U.N.'s support for American actions. The U.N. had passed eleven resolutions condemning the Iraqi invasion and Bush began work on one more. He dispatched top level American officials to the nations of the Security Council to secure their support for the wording of a resolution that would set up a formal deadline for the removal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. U.N. declaration 678 was passed on November 29, 1990 and called for the Iraqis to withdraw by midnight January 15th. The vote was 12 to 2 (Cuba and Yemen), with one abstention (China). The deadline was now set and it was up to Allied commanders to back up militarily this threat.
Matching the initial deployments in speed and effectiveness was the second round of shutting allied forces into the region. American tanks from Europe and additional fighter wings from the United States were being rushed overseas to give credibility to the offensive option. Hundreds of thousands of reservists were activated, some for duty in the Gulf and some taking the place of active duty servicemen who were deployed. The idea that some of the troops would soon be rotated out of the Gulf and be home for was now gone for good.
In the Congress, there was considerable concern for the President's actions. Bush reportedly asked the leadership of the Congress to approve U.N. Resolution 678 a day after it was passed, but the Congress refused. Many on Capitol Hill believed that sanctions should be given more time, but some speculated it was "politics as usual" with the Democrats unwilling to support a Republican President unless absolutely necessary. On a daily basis, many of the rank and file Congressmen took to the floor to denounce the administration for not seeking a diplomatic solution.
To satisfy his critics, President Bush made one last attempt at a diplomatic solution by offering to send Secretary of State Baker to Baghdad and receive Iraqi Foreign Minister in Washington. For weeks this offer remains unanswered, although Saddam Hussein went out of his way to speak to other people who showed up in the Iraqi capital. Finally, on January 9th, Secretary of State Baker and Tariq Aziz agreed to last-minute meeting in Geneva to discuss the Gulf situation. This was regarded as the last chance at averting a war. Throughout the meeting, the media reported that progress was being made. However, in the end, everything fell apart. A personal letter from President Bush to Saddam Hussein was not even accepted as the Iraqi government demonstrated its intransigence at peacefully ending the Gulf crisis. War seemed more imminent than ever.
On Capitol Hill, the Congressional leadership finally relented to the President's request and held a debate on a resolution in support of the U.N. Resolution 678. Although this was not a declaration of war, it did fall within the requirements of the War Powers Act and would authorize the President to commence offensive operations to eject Iraq from Kuwait. After several days of debate, the Congress finally voted on January 12, three days before the deadline in the U.N. resolution, to allow the President to militarily eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The vote in the House, 250-183, and the Senate, 52-47, is regarded as the key vote in conduct of the Gulf crisis and many Members of Congress are likely to be held accountable for the way their ballot. Between January 12 and 15th, all the world watched as the clock ticked down and no sign or withdraw was seen. Iraqi statements continued to claim Kuwait as the 19th province of Iraq and that they would never be separated. In the United States, the country heard President Bush state that offensive operations would take place "sooner rather than later" following the midnight deadline on January 15th.
The deadline passed on January 15th, and all eyes turned to the 16th for the start of hostilities.
Shop for other Gulf War Products
Other Gulf War Books and Videos
Aircraft Pins and Flight Jackets and other military supplies.
Search for Other Gulf War Items