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For more information, see: Gulf War.
See also: Operation DESERT STORM
See also: Operation DESERT SABRE

Operation DESERT SHIELD is the name, assigned by a United States of America-led coalition of nations, which joined to defend Saudi Arabia after Iraq, under the orders of Saddam Hussein, invaded and occupied Kuwait. In Kuwait, the Iraqi military was a clear and present threat to Saudi Arabia. While it was unlikely that the Saudi military could stop an Iraqi invasion, the idea of having foreigners, especially non-Arab, non-Muslim forces enter the Kingdom was alarming to the conservative monarchy, heading an Islamic state under Islamic law.

Eventually, however, the King decided to be joined by a coalition of nations in defending his country. The largest force in the Coalition was from the United States, and there were delicate issues of respecting the leadership of the Saudi military, while having the most experienced command and staff.

A high-level U.S. delegation, including Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, United States Central Command commander GEN H Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., and others met with the King, and obtained agreement to defend Saudi Arabia.

While it had been hoped that the strong defensive coalition, combined with diplomacy, might convince Saddam to withdraw, those measures failed to liberate Kuwait. After a United Nations deadline passed, an intense air campaign, Operation DESERT STORM disrupted Iraqi command and control and caused serious damage to the Iraqi military. Eventually, however, a 100-hour land operation, Operation DESERT SABRE, ejected the Iraqis from Kuwait.

Defense of Saudi Arabia

It took negotiation at the highest levels before the Saudis agreed to have foreign troops in their country. King Fahd asked for a briefing on August 4, and agreed to the deployment on August 6.

On August 7, OPERATION DESERT SHIELD formally began.[1]Once there was approval, the first units that arrived were United States Air Force F-15 Eagle air superiority fighters and E-3 Sentry early warning radar and air battle command post aircraft. The Saudis themselves operated versions of both aircraft types. There appears to have been initial surprise by the Saudis on the size of the ground support organization needed just for these aircraft.

Aircraft carriers and warships capable of launching cruise missiles deployed to international waters. The first significant land forces unit was the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, the division ready brigade of which arrived on 14 August, with the full division in theater on 29 August. The 82nd was variously called a tripwire, or, more cynically, a "speed bump", as a paratroop division could not have directly fought Iraqi armored units. Until U.S. armored units, such as the 24th Infantry Division could arrive, the 82nd could only stay in light contact with Iraqi units, with carrier aircraft being the major weapon.

On August 23, before the Saudis had agreed to the full force, the Iraqi Republican Guard divisions pulled back from the Kuwait-Saudi border. This was not a move of fear, but a consolidation of forces and putting the strongest troops into a position where they could maneuver. [2]. U.S. News described this as "withdrawing". [3]

Had Saddam chosen to move immediately into Saudi Arabia, especially for a short distance, little could stop him until more forces arrived. His thinking has never really been explained.

Attempts to prevent all-out hostilities

Following the invasion, there were a number of diplomatic initiatives to find a peaceful solution, and hopes that the formation of what became a 34-nation coalition might give second thoughts to Saddam Hussein. [4]

The United Nations, in an unprecedented way, had played a crucial role throughout the eight-month international crisis, which began on 2 August 1990 when Iraq invaded, occupied and annexed its neighbour--the tiny, oil-rich State of Kuwait--calling it an "integral part" of Iraq.

After the Iraqi invasion but before Coalition combat operations began, the U.N. Security Council, with majority votes, adopted 15 resolutions related to the crisis, among other things: condemning the initial invasion; calling for Iraqi troop withdrawal and protection of prisoners of war, diplomas and civilians; imposing strong, mandatory, comprehensive economic sanctions against Iraq until it complied with its demands; arranging for aid to innocent victims of the conflict and countries economically affected by the embargo; and setting a deadline before authorizing the use of "all necessary means" to restore international peace and security in the area.

UNSC Resolution 665, of August 25, authorized a maritime blockade. Resolution 678, passed November 29, invokes Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which can include military action.

The deadline passed. And a seven-week war took place--waged by a coalition of troops representing 34 nationalities--to oust Iraq from Kuwait. Resolution 686, of 2 March 1991 after the cease-fire, demanded provocative overflights stop and provided the basis of no-fly operations.

Preparing for operations against Iraq

From the first deployment of foreign troops into Saudi Arabia, a variety of options were considered to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait. While some of the air planners believed, perhaps for the first time with the technology to have a real chance of following through, that they could put enough pressure on the Iraqis, Schwarzkopf, Powell, and other senior commanders assumed a ground attack would be needed if diplomacy failed.

The nature of a ground offensive, however, was controversial in the U.S. military, to say nothing of the Saudis and other coalition members. At first, until the tanks of the 24th Division arrived in September 12,[5] there was much concern about the light forces of the 82nd Airborne Division even holding ground. When the XVIII Airborne Corps was present, Schwarzkopf and the planners still felt that a single corps, and not a heavy corps, really did not give a good counteroffensive option.

Eventually, the highest U.S., Saudi, and other national levels agreed a stronger force would be needed. An active defense, followed by an air offensive, was seen as the way to bring in adequate ground force.

Air Planning

GEN Schwarzkopf asked for assistance in planning an air counterattack, and COL John Warden III presented the original draft concept, called INSTANT THUNDER, for the 1991 Gulf War air campaign to GEN (ret.) Chuck Horner, then a lieutenant general commanding Schwarzkopf's air component (AFCENT) for United States Central Command. According to a book by Horner (coauthored by Tom Clancy), Horner found his personality immediately clashed with Warden's, although there wee good ideas in the presentation. [6] Sound thinking was involved, one member of the Checkmate. David Deptula, teamed stayed in Saudi Arabia, and now is himself a lieutenant general, and Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, United States Air Force. Horner looked further for a compatible air operations planners, and selected Buster Glosson.

The problems first seemed a matter of personalities. GEN H Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., commanding United States Central Command during the Gulf War, spoke well of Warden's original air war concepts. [7] Schwarzkopf did express concern that Warden saw the air component winning the war, and did not provide enough support to land forces.

In his August 10 presentation, Warden modeled the Iraqi system as a set of five concentric circles, with Saddam and his command and control at the center. Next came the industrial and other infrastructure needed to sustain a war, such as the electrical grid. In the third ring was transprtation, with the fourth ring as the civilian population and its food supply. The outermost, and to Warden the least important, ring was the enemy's conventional military forces. Warden was not insistent that the centers of gravity would always be the same:

The enemy's air [in the sense of air targeting] center of gravity may lie in equipment...in logistics...geography...in personnel...or in command and control.[8]

Putting the Iraqi army as the lowest priority clashed with Schwarzkopf, who, while an advisor to South Vietnamese forces, objected that his unit did not have enough air support. A U.S. colonel, not in Schwarzkopf's chain of command, asked Schwarzkopf, sarcastically, what would be enough. Schwarzkopf, then a captain, replied:

Sir, when it's my a** out there on the ground, about a hundred B-52s circling around would be just barely adequate. Now, I'm willing to settle for something less, but I'm not willing to settle for nothing.[9]

Throughout the Gulf War, Schwarzkopf wanted most support plans to include area bombing by B-52s against troops in the field, even when more modern precision-guided munitions might be more effective for a specific objective, and an objective, such as Saddam's communications, might be more critical than the Republican Guard. This is not meant as serious criticism of Schwarzkopf, but to illustrate the kinds of cultural conflicts that take place between different services, or even between different branches of different services — Schwarzkopf, who came up from a regular Infantry background, disliked Army Special Forces, although he commended them for their performance at the end of the Gulf War. Warden had written

if our tools in the Iraq case had been similar to those available in World War II, we would have been compelled to attack Iraq serially, and we would have started with some part of its air defense system. If we were very lucky, after a long period of time, we might have been able to start the reduction of the key inner rings but that would have been far into the future.[10]

The actual campaign attacked both inner and outer rings simultaneously, but Glosson was able to present these ideas in a way acceptable to Horner and Schwarzkopf.

Increasing the tension, Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Dugan gave an interview, published on September 16, not only suggesting that the Air Force could be decisive, but giving clues to the evolving INSTANT THUNDER plan. Cheney immediately fired him. [11]

Ground forces: active unit deployment, reserve callups

Central Command's Army Component (ARCENT) was formed around the headquarters, Third United States Army (LTG John Yeosock). Cole interprets Atkinson as saying that Schwarzkopf also disliked Yeosock's methodical, refused to make him land forces commander, and often bypassed Yeosock and gave direct orders to Yeosock's subordinate corps. Cole, however, says Atkinson overemphasized Schwarzkopf's personality as an issue. [12] In the first phase of building up U.S. forces, the main conventional ground units were the XVIII Airborne Corps (LTG Gary Luck) and its constituent 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), 24th Infantry Division, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. 2nd Armored Division and 1st Cavalry Division were in CENTCOM reserve.

In addition, the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) (LTG Walter Boomer), a corps-sized formation including more aircraft than a comparable Army organization, deployed. A brigade-sized Marine force remained afloat, on ampbibious ships.

The issue of land forces command

While all air and naval forces in CENTCOM had their own components, there was a disunity of command in land forces, with the Army regular troops under III Army, and the Marines under I MEF. In the 1944 invasion of Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower elected to have an overall land forces commander, Bernard Law Montgomery, reporting to him, with the armies and army groups reporting through Montgomery.

Schwarzkopf chose to wear the "dual hats" of CENTCOM commander and land forces commander, rather than assign it to John Yeosock, ARCENT and Third United States Army commander.

Buildup of land forces

Schwarzkopf asked for a planning team to work out advanced options, and received four officers, recent graduates of the new School of Advanced Military Studies, whose graduates were known, inside the army, as the "Jedi Knights".[13]. Arriving on September 14, what became the Special Plans Group prepared the two-corps plan.

CENTCOM had roughed out the one-corps "high-risk" offensive option on 6 October, using the XVIII Airborne Corps and I MEF [14] CENTCOM's chiefs of operations and planning respectively, were Navy and Air Force officers, and there was concern that the staff, without augmentation, could develop a strong land warfare plan. [15] Air warfare was in much better shape.

A fundamental challenge was the CENTCOM position that a second, armor-heavy corps would be necessary to take offensive action against the Iraqis in Kuwait. This was briefed to the White House on October 11, and, according to Powell, advisors thought CENTCOM had enough force, and called Schwarzkopf another " [George]" McClellan, a Union commander in the American Civil War who was hesitant to go on the offensive. Gordon and Trainor reported that the Civil War critic was National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, a Air Force lieutenant general assigned to the White House. [16]

On October 29, Schwarzkopf recounted that Powell told him that a frustrated Cheney had come up with his own plan, judged of extreme risk. Criticism flowed back and forth for a week. On 2 November, Schwarzkopf met with the Saudi leadership over the delicate question of ultimate command authority in a coalition. The compromise was that Schwarzkopf and his Saudi counterpart, Prince Khalid bin Sultan al-Saud, were to be co-equals, but the CENTCOM commander would have final authority for operational decisionms.

After significant discussion, on November 8, CENTCOM it was made public that it had been given even a larger force than originally requested, VII Corps (LTG Fred Franks), which was being demobilized as part of draw-downs in Europe, was designated as the second Army corps. Commitments also were made to upgrade all M1 Abrams tank guns to the newer 120mm version; civil servant volunteers from the U.S. Army Tank and Automotive Command set up an overhaul facility, at the port of entry into Saudi Arabia, to upgrade guns, armor, and other systems.

According to Cole's review of Rich Atkinson's book, Crusade,

From the moment Franks arrived in Saudi Arabia, if not before, Schwarzkopf took an immediate dislike to the man. Atkinson says that Schwarzkopf privately dismissed Franks as a pedant with an ability to mask battlefield timidity with verbose and theoretical lectures on tactics and operational maneuvering. [12]

Without judging pedantic styles, it should be noted that Schwarzkopf's staff experience was in operations, finance, or personnel; he taught engineering at West Point. After Desert Storm, Franks was promoted to the four-star commander of Training and Doctrine Command, the pinnacle of Army concept development. Simply comparing their assignments shows them to have very different personalities.

The President used his authority to call up reserves, but, in practice, only combat support and combat service support units actually deployed to the theater of operations. Three Army National Guard combat brigades intended to "round out" U.S. Army divisions proved not to be combat ready. [17]

The ground concept emerges

Scouting the desert, to the west of Kuwait, found little Iraqi presence. Terrain reconnaissance showed that the ground would support M1 Abrams tanks and other heavy vehicles. While Cheney's original brainstorm of a move in the extreme west of Iraq, with forces moving to the western base, seemed too risky, there was more and more reason to believe that Saddam simply would not expect a "left hook" well to the west of Kuwait, which would then drive eastwards.

Some analysts believe Saddam had fixated on a Marine amphibious landing from the east, coupled with a frontal attack on Kuwait. CENTCOM was doing all they could to encourage his incorrect thinking, with visible amphibious rehearsals, such as an October 1 exercise, called Camel Sand, in Oman.[18] While the Marines never made an combat landing, their activity drew Iraqi eyes, and, during the actual ground phase, Navy SEALs placed demolitions and other special effects on beaches, simulating a pre-landing bombardment.

Essential to the success of the left hook was that the Iraqis had to be unaware of the movement of the XVIII Corps from its positions near the Persian Gulf coast, to well inland, west of the Kuwait border with Iraq. CENTCOM took every possible step to deprive Iraq of any intelligence sensors more sophisticated than a pair of binoculars. Passing one military unit through another is always complex, and it became even more complex when the western force had to move through rear areas without detection. Making it even more difficult is that supply dumps had to be in position, along the route to the west, before the main troop units reached them.


  1. (U.S. Army) Redstone Arsenal Historical Information, APPENDIX: OPERATION DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS 2 August 90-11 April 91, Team Redstone's Role in Operation DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM, Redstone Chronology
  2. Schwarzkopf, H Norman, Jr. (1992), It Doesn't Take a Hero, Bantam p. 317
  3. U.S. News & World Report (1992), Triumph without Victory: the History of the Persian Gulf War, Random House pp. xxiv-xxv
  4. "War in Persian Gulf area ends; Iraq accepts UN cease-fire, demand for reparations, but calls Council resolution 'unjust.'", UN Chronicle, June, 1991, UNChron
  5. Redstone Chronology
  6. Clancy, Tom & Chuck Horner (1999), Every Man a Tiger: The Gulf War Air Campaign, Putnam Adult
  7. Schwarzkopf, pp. 285-289
  8. Warden, John A., III (2000), The Air Campaign, revised edition, iUniverse pp. 34-35
  9. Schwarzkopf, pp. 112-113
  10. Warden, p. 148
  11. USN&WR, pp. 152-153
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Managing the Schwarzkopf account: Atkinson as Crusader", Joint Forces Quarterly, Winter 1993–94 p. 127 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Cole" defined multiple times with different content
  13. A second year following the Command and General Staff College program
  14. Schwarzkopf, pp. 357-360
  15. Gordon, Michael R. & Bernard E. Trainor (1995), The Generals' War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf, Little, Brown p. 125
  16. Gordon & Trainor, p. 140
  17. Buchalter, Alice R. & Seth Elan (October 2007), Historical Attempts to Reorganize the Reserve Components, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress pp. 16-17
  18. USN&WR, p. 171