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American Jewish Service Members in the Gulf War

30 years ago

Anniversary of Operation Desert Storm

Operation Desert Storm occurred 30 years ago when U.S. and Coalition Forces initiated the Air Campaign against Iraq. It ended with the Ground Campaign on February 28, 1991 and the official cease fire on March 3, 1991. The following is a short history of Desert Storm and the experiences from some of the Jewish veterans that participated in Desert Storm. 

The Gulf War officially started Aug 2, 1990 when Iraqi military forces under the command of Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq, invaded the country of Kuwait. In the 1980’s Iraq had fought a war with Iran and when the war was over Iraq was in debt and owed money to both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and both countries refused to forgive their loans to Iraq.

Saddam Hussein
FlorianivsCC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

Iraq claimed that Kuwait was part of Iraq, and that Kuwait was one of its territories and should come under Iraqi control. Iraq also claimed that Kuwait was producing more oil than agreed upon by OPEC and that Kuwait was actually drilling oil from Iraqi territory.

During the 1980’s and into the 90’s, the U.S. and Arab nations were working with Iraq to solve the problems, but eventually Iraq decided to invade Kuwait on Aug 2.

Immediately after the invasion, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 660, condemning the invasion of Kuwait and demanding the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

On August 7, 1990, the U.S. sent 15,000 troops, 2 destroyers and 100 helicopters and fighter planes to Saudi Arabia, as a deterrent to Iraq and to help defend Saudi Arabia. This would be called, “Operation Desert Shield”.

The U.S. President at that time was President George H. W. Bush. The top two U.S. military officers were U.S. Army General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. Army General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander in Chief of all U.S., and Coalition forces.

A company from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) marches across the apron to board the aircraft that will carry the unit to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield. (U.S. Army photo/Released)

Diplomatic negotiations were being conducted by the U.S. along with the U.N. to get Iraq out of Kuwait.  On November 29, 1990, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 678 calling for the use of “all necessary means” to include military action, to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait if it has not done so by January 15, 1991.

In November 1990, President Bush announced that U.S. armored and infantry divisions would be sent to Saudi Arabia. They would come from both the U.S. and Germany. The Marines would continue to send ground troops while the Navy and Air Force would also increase their forces in the Persian Gulf area.

Diplomatic talks continued with Iraq, but there was no progress. Iraqi military forces stayed in Kuwait. During this time period, Iraqi forces established defense positions in Kuwait and southern Iraq, along the borders with Saudi Arabia.

On January 12, 1991, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution authorizing military force if the Iraqi forces were not withdrawn from Kuwait by January 15. On January 15, the Iraqi forces were still there. President Bush gave Iraq one more day but, they still did not withdraw.

On the night of January 16 and morning of January 17, 1991, in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution #678, and Congress’s Resolution, the U.S. initiated military action and the Air Campaign began, thus beginning “Operation Desert Storm”.

The Air Campaign consisted of the U.S. Air Force bombing Iraqi military installations, communication centers, air defense systems, radar installations and military positions.

USAF photo, F-16 A, F-15C and F-15E planes flying over the burning oil fields of Kuwait during Desert Storm

While the Air Campaign was going on, U.S. and Coalition forces were continuing to build up in Saudi Arabia and preparing to invade Iraq. By the middle of Feb ‘91, the U.S. had built up a coalition force consisting of 34 countries totaling around 750,000 troops including 540,000 U.S. troops.

On Feb 24, 1991, the Ground Campaign began with three major avenues of attack.  On the right side of the attack were the U.S. Marines, an U.S. Army armor brigade, along with Arab Coalition Forces, attacking directly into Kuwait destroying and removing all Iraqi forces in Kuwait.

In the center, was U.S. 7th Corps, consisting of two armored divisions, one mechanized infantry division, one cavalry division and an armored cavalry regiment along with the British 1st Armored Division.  They attacked directly into Iraq and advanced towards the northern part of Kuwait looking like a “Left Hook”.  They defeated and removed all Iraqi ground forces that they encountered. 

On the left side of the attack was the U.S. 18th Airborne Corps, consisting of a U.S. airborne division, air assault division, armored cavalry regiment and a mechanized infantry division, along with the French 6th Light Division. They covered 7th Corps left flank and destroyed and removed the Iraqi forces that they encountered.

The Ground Campaign lasted five days from Feb 24 – 28, 1991.  On Feb 28, 1991, an unofficial ceasefire was agreed upon by Saddam Hussein and all U.S. and Coalition forces halted in place.  The official ceasefire was signed on March 3, 1991 ending all hostilities.

Though the Iraqi military forces were removed from Kuwait and the balance of power was restored in the Middle East, Saddam Hussein remained in power. He lost part of his military, but his military was still strong.  It would be twelve years later that the U.S. would go back and attack Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein.

For the U.S., an all-volunteer army that had fought in Operation Desert Storm. Active duty units deployed from both stateside and overseas (Germany) with a strong support from both activated Reserve and National Guard units. The Reserve and National Guard units that deployed to the Middle East provided invaluable support to the active duty units there.

For the legacy of Desert Storm, it ended the Vietnam era and began a new one. The new vehicles that the U.S. Army brought into service in the 1980’s, such as the M1/M1A1 Tank, M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, HMMVEE, along with the training that the U.S. military did, proved more than a match for the Iraqi military. This showed the American people and the world that the U.S. military was strong and professional and still a world power.

But in all wars, there are casualties and Operation Desert Storm was no different, as the U.S. military suffered 383 deaths.

After the cease fire and when the troops returned to the states, the American public congratulated the troops with parades and ceremonies and held the military in high esteem.  That high esteem for the military is still with us today.

Soldiers ride in an M-1A1 Abrams tank in the 1991 National Victory Celebration parade honoring the coalition forces of Operation Desert Storm.
U.S. Army Photo

Written by Steven Fixler.

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