The area of modern day Iraq is the site of the oldest known civilization. There between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf is the region that was once called Mesopotamia, which means the “land between two rivers.”
It is also here where the first recorded instance of war appeared in the year 2700 BC. At the time Enmebaragesi the first Sumerian king, invaded neighboring Elam. This would be the first “Iran-Iraq war,” and it was fought in the area near present day Basra.
Almost 5,000 years later on February 1991, high above the cradle of land between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, the United States fielded for Desert Storm, the best trained forces sent to war by any country in any era. These forces were highly trained, and they were superbly equipped. Their mission was simple: to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.
The U.S. forces brought with them the most impressive array of intelligence-gathering systems that had ever been assembled in one place. It was as if civilization had returned to its birthplace to show off what they had learned in the intervening years. This would be the last major war of the 20th century.
The intelligence systems were hovering over Iraq and they were also on the ground. The systems included satellites like the Keyhole, which could see things as small as a pencil. In addition to the picture-taking satellites, there were also the listening kind, such as the Magnum and Vortex.
High above enemy airspace American aircrafts with antennae’s were constantly locked in on enemy communication frequencies. The U2 spy plane which was used extensively took more than 1 million feet of film.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), like the pioneer, had a 24-hours capability, 100-mile range, and near real time data-link that could provide targeting information and also act in a reconnaissance role.
The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) was a battle field surveillance system. The system consisted of radars mounted on an Air Force Boeing 707, which could operate as a target or surveillance system. Information gathered would be passed back to air and artillery weapons. This system allowed commanders to see as far as 100 miles in all kinds of weather. During the ground war JSTARS allowed the ground forces to track all Iraqi movement and determine with precision what would be their plan of action.
With approximately 3,000 sorties flown per day, Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) was necessary to assess how degraded the enemy was. Especially as the ground war was nearing. BDA concentrated on enemy armored vehicles, tanks and artillery. This was achieved by using annotated photographs and imagery mosaics.
The old fashion way of collecting intelligence continued to play an important role of intelligence gathering with couriers moving information to and from the battlefield. On a daily basis they would carry approximately 250 pounds of annotated photos, Iraqi maps and other intelligence documents.
Saddam had deployed 16,000 infantry divisions along the Saudi border to absorb the brunt of the coalition attack. He had held his best fighters in reserve which were eight divisions of the Republican Guard made up of 1,000 tanks, and 120,000 men who stood ready to strike a massive counter attack with the goal of inflicting devastating casualties on the advancing coalition.
At the time the Iraqis were not aware of a new technology that the U.S. forces had brought with them called the Global Positioning System (GPS). This would be the first GPS war. This technology would eventually enable the U.S. forces to cross into Iraq far to the west of Iraqi defensive lines setting the stage for an attack on their unprotected right flank.
The Iraqis didn’t believe that it was possible for the U.S. forces to move further to the west. It was trackless desert. The Iraqis themselves had tried to operate out there and had gotten lost. It was impossible to maneuver with no roads or terrain features.
For this reason they thought the U.S. would limit their operations in Kuwait and not invade Iraq. So they concentrated their forces on the Kuwait border with Saudi Arabia, because they believed that the main thrust would come in the east through Kuwait and not through the western desert of Iraq.
The U.S. employed a left hook that made the Iraqi defenses irrelevant. It cut through the sector most lightly held by Iraq and went straight to the Euphrates river line and subsequently outflanked all of their defensive lines. The hook then turned east to envelope all of the Iraqi forces in the Kuwaiti Theatre of Operations (KTO). The Iraqi forces were arrayed in a west-east direction, so the hook rolled up on them and punched their divisions on the side one by one and at great speed, which was designed to disorient them. The U.S. forces wreaked havoc on the Iraqi army.
After eight years of war with Iran, the Iraqis had a very experienced, battle-hardened Army. It was considered the 4th most powerful in the world. However, Iraqi weapon systems, intelligence gathering and tactics were useless against an opponent that was fighting a three dimensional and mobile war.
The average Iraqi soldier, NCO, and even officers, though brave as they were (the Republican Guard stood their ground and fought back ferociously) did not in any way equal this American adversary in terms of training. During the previous 10 years, U.S. forces had focused on developing the MI soldier on doctrine, techniques and procedures. Having well-prepared MI soldiers paid off in Desert Storm. This is evident when a captured Iraqi officer noted:
“We had a great appreciation of your intelligence system; we knew from our experience in the Iranian War that at all times you could see us during day and night and knew where we were on the ground. If we communicated, you could both hear us and target us, and if we talked too long, you could target us and destroy us with your ordnance. On the other hand, as we looked at our intelligence system, we had no idea where you were on the ground, we had no intelligence capabilities to see what your dispositions were, and we had no way to monitor your communications. We knew you were going to attack only when you overran our front line positions…”
In summary, U.S. Military Intelligence had been able to collect and distribute information to its ground forces at a faster and more effective rate than the enemy. The method implemented by the Iraqi army to defend Kuwait was the best and only one available to them. But the Americans played by their own rules which eventually lead to the devastating defeat of the Iraqi army.
1. Finnegan, John P., The Military Intelligence Story: A Photographic History, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1998, 118.
Stewart, Brig. Gen, John F., Jr., Desert Storm: A Third US Army Perspective, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 1991.
Schwarzkopf, Gen. H. Norman, and Petre, Peter, It Doesn’t Take a Hero, Bantam Books, NY, 1992.
Hamblin, William J., Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC: Holy Warriors at the Dawn of History, Taylor and Francis Books, NY, 2006.