The 1990/1 Gulf War

The Invasion of Kuwait & Operations Desert Shield/Storm

The Gulf War began when Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990.  Immediately condemned by the international community, Iraq was sanctioned by the United Nations and given an ultimatum to withdraw by January 15, 1991.  As the fall passed, a multi-national force assembled in Saudi Arabia to defend that nation and to prepare for the liberation of Kuwait.  On January 17, coalition aircraft began an intense aerial campaign against Iraqi targets.  This was followed by a brief ground campaign commencing on February 24 which liberated Kuwait and advanced into Iraq before a ceasefire took effect on the 28th. 

Causes & Invasion of Kuwait

Saddan Hussein
Saddan Hussein. Photograph Source: Public Domain

With the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, Iraq found itself deeply in debt to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.  Despite requests, neither nation was willing to forgive these debts.  In addition, tensions between Kuwait and Iraq were heightened by Iraqi claims of Kuwaiti slant-drilling across the border and exceeding OPEC oil production quotas.  An underlying factor in these disputes was the Iraqi argument that Kuwait was rightfully part of Iraq and that its existence was a British invention in the wake of World War I.  In July 1990, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (left) began openly making threats of military action.  On August 2, Iraqi forces launched a surprise attack against Kuwait and quickly overran the country.    

The International Response & Operation Desert Shield

President George H.W. Bush
President George H.W. Bush visits US troops at Thanksgiving 1990 during Operation Desert Shield. Photograph Courtesy of the US Government

Immediately following the invasion, the United Nations issued Resolution 660 which condemned Iraq's actions.  Subsequent resolutions placed sanctions on Iraq and later required Iraqi forces to withdraw by January 15, 1991 or face military action.  In the days after the Iraqi attack, US President George H.W. Bush (left) directed that American forces be sent to Saudi Arabia to aid in the defense of that ally and prevent further aggression.  Dubbed Operation Desert Shield, this mission saw the rapid buildup of US forces in the Saudi desert and Persian Gulf.  Conducting extensive diplomacy, the Bush Administration assembled a large coalition that ultimately saw thirty-four nations commit troops and resources to the region. 

The Air Campaign

American aircraft during Operation Desert Storm
US aircraft during Operation Desert Storm. Photograph Courtesy of the US Air Force

Following Iraq's refusal to withdraw from Kuwait, coalition aircraft began striking targets in Iraq and Kuwait on January 17, 1991.  Dubbed Operation Desert Storm, the coalition offensive saw aircraft fly from bases in Saudi Arabia and carriers in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.  Initial attacks targeted the Iraqi air force and anti-aircraft infrastructure before moving on to disabling the Iraqi command and control network.  Quickly gaining air superiority, coalition air forces began a systematic attack on enemy military targets.  Responding to the opening of hostilities, Iraq began firing Scud missiles at Israel and Saudi Arabia.  In addition, Iraqi forces attacked the Saudi city of Khafji on January 29, but were driven back.

The Liberation of Kuwait

Defeated Iraqi forces during Gulf War
Aerial view of destroyed Iraqi T-72 tank, BMP-1 and Type 63 armored personnel carriers and trucks on Highway 8 in March 1991. Photograph Courtesy of the US Department of Defense

After several weeks of intense air attacks, coalition commander General Norman Schwarzkopf commenced a massive ground campaign on February 24.  While US Marine divisions and Arab forces advanced into Kuwait from the south, fixing the Iraqis in place, VII Corps attacked north into Iraq to the west.  Protected on their left by XVIII Airborne Corps, VII Corps drove north before swinging east to cut off the Iraqi retreat from Kuwait.  This "left hook" caught the Iraqis by surprise and resulted in the surrender of large numbers of enemy troops.  In approximately 100 hours of fighting, coalition forces shattered the Iraqi army before Pres. Bush declared a ceasefire on February 28. 

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Hickman, Kennedy. "The 1990/1 Gulf War." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). The 1990/1 Gulf War. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "The 1990/1 Gulf War." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).