Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ
17th January, 2016
Exactly 25 years ago, on January 17, 1991, the operation of the multinational force (MNF), dubbed “Desert Storm” began. Authorized by the UN Security Council, this war was aimed at freeing Kuwait, seized by Iraq. And the Soviet Union, although a coalition of 34 countries (including many countries from the former Warsaw Pact) was made, was not included, and the aggression of Saddam Hussein was strongly condemned and was actually supported by the bosses of the operation – USA. Maybe because most of the USSR had enough problems as less than a year remained before the collapse, and maybe because of the frankly openly aggressive policy of Baghdad, who in two days literally trampled the small but very much Kuwaiti oil.
Iraq then invaded Kuwait under the pretext of stealing that country’s oil (the Americans really gave Kuwait the technology of directional drilling, allows to dive into the “reservoirs” of neighbors), and, in fact, Iraq was agonizing due to the low cost of this oil at $18 per barrel. The world price was not without an order from the United States and Europe dictated to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (though unlike current realities?). It would soon be 25 dollars per barrel – Iraq would do enough to improve the financial and economic situation after the recently concluded costly Iran-Iraq war.
In any situation it is necessary to make conclusions and to learn from the experience, including the errors of the conflicting parties. Undoubtedly, the Russian General staff have thoroughly studied the course of the operation “Desert Storm” (like many others) and created their tactics, which now allows our HQ’s to successfully and bloodlessly act in Syria against militants of the “Islamic State” (banned in Russia as a terrorist organization), effectively maintaining air-to-government forces and patriotic opposition.
Directly the operation “Desert Storm” lasted from 17th January to 24th February 1991 and became part of the so-called First Gulf war (“Gulf War”). It was preceded by operation Desert Shield, which began on 7th August 1990 with the deployment of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. The subsequent operation is the “Desert Sword” – lasting from the 24th to 28th February 1991 and represented a ground operation of the MNF, which led to the defeat of the Iraqi army, liberating Kuwait and advancing the coalition troops to a depth of 50 kilometers into the territory of Iraq itself. Baghdad then announced the termination of its resistance on all fronts, and recognized all the resolutions of the UN Security Council.
How, then, 25 years ago, did the event evolve?
By the beginning of hostilities in the region, the confrontation between the warring parties had launched a powerful grouping of different types of armed forces. The MNF, led by the US, had almost three times as many combat aircraft and absolute superiority in naval forces. These forces included up to 600 thousand people, more than four thousand tanks, more than 3,700 field artillery guns and mortars, about two thousand aircraft and over 100 ships. However, Iraq was a hard nut to crack. Its army outnumbered the coalition in personnel, tanks and artillery systems (over 700 thousand troops, about five thousand tanks, more than eight thousand field artillery guns and mortars, and 700 combat aircraft and ten ships). But in combat capabilities, and above all on the quality of weapons and ammunition, latest military technologies, the advantage was on the side of the MNF.
Initially it was assumed that the military action of the coalition would be conducted in several stages. The first, which began at night on January 17th, involved massive strikes caused by the air force and Navy – cruise missiles launched from the sea. The targets were the air defense systems, combat aircraft on the air bases, the starting positions of missiles of the class “earth-earth”, the major points of state and military administration, and areas of concentration of troops.
The second stage was a series of systematic air strikes and launches of cruise missiles aimed at crippling critical infrastructure and the military-industrial complex of Iraq, and the destruction of their armored and mechanized units.
The third stage was to involve a ground offensive actions from the joint efforts of the army and marine corps with support of aircraft – strategic, tactical and carrier-based aircraft, together with airborne and airmobile troops and special forces. But this had to be postponed. As for the fourth step, this was to complete the defeat of Iraqi forces in Kuwait.
The practical implementation of the MNF combat missions during “Operation Desert Storm” showed that things were not all going according to plan.
Already from the second day of the ongoing operations, the aviation coalition met growing resistance from the Iraqi air force and ground-based air defense, which was a surprise to the U.S. command. The Iraqi army was able to provide survivability through practical experience of warfare in mountainous desert terrain and the use of underground shelters, including for the preservation of aircraft, air defense systems and military equipment. The military of Iraq was literally buried under the ground, building a system of anti-tank and anti-personnel barriers, equipping a false position. By the way, the significant difference in the information about the number of Iraqi losses of tanks (from 1 800 to 3 700) is due to the wide use of inflatable rubber layout technology that released a large quantity of ammunition.
The military command of Iraq had not only preserved part of the tactical missiles of a class “earth-earth”, but also launched some 130 missile strikes at Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel starting from January 18th.
Then it became obvious that the transition to large-scale offensive operations of the ground forces of the coalition would be associated with inevitable significant losses. And this was unacceptable in the first place for US, who had not forgotten the losses during the war in Vietnam and the reaction in American society. Therefore, the command of MNF-I chose the option of continuing the systematic application of air strikes by aircraft and by the Navy: plane aviation had made approximately 2 500 sorties daily.
Targeted for destruction, in addition to military positions and locations, were used manufacturing plants, bridges, highways and public infrastructure. By applying air strikes, the leadership of the multinational force sought to achieve the greatest possible destruction of manpower and military equipment of the armed forces of Iraq, sought to wear down and break them psychologically and to break the will of further resistance, incapacitate the maximum number of defensive structures, and eventually reduce inevitable losses of their troops during the transition to a land battle. Such a decision by the leaders of the coalition on the continuation of air strikes, including those projects already aimed on the destruction of the Iraqi economy, had changed the purpose and nature of the war.
The fighting had gone beyond the approved by the UN Security Council resolutions, which demanded only the liberation of Kuwait, and were carried out in the interests of irreparable damage of the military-economic potential of Iraq and the overthrow of the ruling regime. This targeted re-orientation of the U.S. and its Western allies led to an overhaul of the ongoing war on the part of the world community. As a result, the operation “Desert Storm” was planned from 17th to 19th January 1991 and lasted 39 days – before the start of “Desert Sword”.
Undoubtedly, the operation “Desert Storm” ushered in an era of wars, high technology, with extensive use of space intelligence, satellite navigation systems, electronic warfare systems, precision weapons, conduct of “non-contact war”, when the foot soldier does not hover above the trench of the enemy (the so-called x hour), and ironing the enemy from the air. The war in the Persian Gulf received the name of the “Television War”: American propagandists covered it almost live, but under favorable light. Known Fact: when a group of journalists allowed on to the aircraft carrier “Roosevelt, every day they got “exclusive” information – along with a shot of whiskey from the press officer. In the context of Prohibition, it was a powerful argument supporting the truth of the info they were getting.
Back then terms such as “friendly fire” were widespread. The coalition allies were shooting at anything that moved in the zone of direct fire, and without coordination the multinational forces often fired at their own With relatively few losses of soldiers, the UK lost a total of 24 troops from the fire of 11 people. The Americans were hurt even more from “friendly fire”, losing 23 helicopters, only five were intercepted by the enemy.
And yet “Desert Storm” was virtually the last action in which the U.S. army acted on the UN mandate. All subsequent wars, the United States, sometimes with allies, conducted without regard to international organizations. As, for example, in Yugoslavia (“Deliberate Force” in 1995 – the Bosnian Serbs and “Noble Anvil”, 1999 – with the bombing of Belgrade and Kosovo). Again in Iraq – “Desert Fox,” 1998, and “Shock and Awe”, 2003. In Afghanistan – “Infinite Reach”, 1998, and “Enduring Freedom”, 2001. The so-called “Arab spring” in Libya – with the bombing and assassination of President Gaddafi, funding the opposition in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt for the overthrow of the legitimate authorities. For 25 years, the Americans have largely succeeded…