February 27 marks the 30th anniversary of the end of the First Gulf War. It began on January 17 and was over before March. Here is the story of the last days and the Highway of Death.
As chronicled in earlier blogs, Operation Desert Storm ended on January 16, 1991 and Desert Shield began on January 17. For weeks the United States coalition forces strategically targeted Iraqi Command and Control as well as key military targets. This was orchestrated by General Chuck Horner using the strategy developed by Colonel John Warden.
The Ground War
On February 24th the Coalition forces began rolling into Kuwait and eastern Iraq using what General Schwarzkopf called a “Hail Mary”. More accurately it was akin to an “End Around” in football. The Coalition forces outflanked the Iraqi defenses (an estimated 300,000 troops) gathered between Kuwait and Saudi Arabi.
The coalition forces swung to the west and back behind the Iraqi defense lines. The French Foreign Legion secured the western flank but was not seriously threatened. The Iraqis soon realized the were surrounded.
The Highway of Death
At the end of the third day of the ground way, surrounded on nearly every side the Iraqi forces began to flee to their homeland. The most direct route from Kuwait City to Basra Iraq was Highway 80. This six-lane highway had brought most of the Iraqi troops into Kuwait. Now they were trying desperately to get out and they chose the same route from which they had entered.
Coalition intelligence picked up the traffic immediately. In came the airstrikes led by the A-10 Warthog. Other aircraft followed, F-16s, F-15, anything that had a bomb on it. I spoke with a pilot involved in the operation. He told me it was like being in a shooting gallery. For ten hours the bombing did not cease.
Scorched vehicles lined the highway.
It became known as the Highway of Death. President George Bush called an end to the hostilities after 100 hours of the ground way.
Thirty Years Later
If nothing else, the First Gulf War taught military planners that the use of strategic bombing could greatly lessen ground casualties once ground operations begin. The strategic air plans of the coalition effectively had the ground forces fighting deaf and blind in regard to their command and control and as to where the enemy was coming from. It all culminated on the Highway of Death.
Ironically, US forces would use this same highway when they invaded Iraq during the Second Gulf War 12 years later. Today it is a commercial highway with signs marking thanks to the US forces for liberating Kuwait. To read more, see this website.