Saudi Arabia Table of Contents
Giant oil spill resulting from the Persian Gulf War, 1991
Courtesy Aramco World
At the conclusion of its bloody eight-year war with Iran, Iraq was able to maintain a huge, battle-tested army and vast stockpiles of modern weapons. To intimidate Kuwait over the issue of access to the gulf and Kuwait's unwillingness to limit its oil production, President Saddam Husayn massed Iraqi troops on Kuwait's border. On August 2, 1990, to the surprise of the world, Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait, and Husayn announced Kuwait's annexation as Iraq's nineteenth province. Iraqi combat forces continued to move southward to the Saudi border, and enormous amounts of supplies were transported to the frontline troops. Intelligence sources indicated that Husayn planned to seize the nearby Saudi oil fields and processing installations. The Saudi Arabian National Guard was mobilized and deployed along the border, with army units to follow. Convinced that an Iraqi attack on Saudi territory was imminent and recognizing that available Saudi forces were no match for the divisions Husayn had moved into Kuwait, King Fahd authorized the deployment of United States forces to defend his northern border against Iraqi aggression.
In the ensuing months, an allied force of more than 600,000 ground, sea, and air force personnel was assembled to defend Saudi Arabia and to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Command of the allied forces was divided, with the head of the United States Central Command, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, in charge of United States, British, and French units and his Saudi counterpart, Lieutenant General Khalid ibn Sultan Al Saud, son of the minister of defense and aviation and nephew of the king, in charge of units from twenty-four non-Western countries, including troops from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Kuwait, and other states of the Persian Gulf. Saudi ground forces deployed for the allied undertaking (called Operation Desert Shield and renamed Operation Desert Storm when the war began in January 1991), consisted of one armored brigade, three mechanized brigades, and two national guard mechanized brigades.
Saudi military resources were strained by the need to manage the allied military buildup and to ensure that the nations contributing forces to the coalition were supplied with fuel, housing, power, and food. The Saudi air force flew 3,000 sorties, losing only one Tornado and two F-5E fighter aircraft to Iraqi fire. In one of the few engagements by any of the allied powers with the Iraqi air force, two Iraqi Mirage F-1 aircraft trying to attack allied shipping were shot down by a Saudi pilot. Saudi fighter units were frustrated by the absence of Iraqi air targets; Iraqi aircraft either were destroyed on the ground or shifted away from the fighting.
In their only ground attack on Saudi territory, the Iraqis captured the evacuated border town of Ras al Khafji on January 30, 1991. After two days of heavy fighting, three Saudi mechanized battalions, one tank battalion, and two national guard battalions, joined by a battalion from Qatar and supported by United States Marines and attack helicopters, succeeded in driving the Iraqis out of the town on February 2. Eleven Iraqi tanks and fifty-one other armored vehicles were destroyed. The Saudis reported casualties of eighteen dead, thirty-two wounded, and eleven missing in what was described as the greatest land battle in which the country's forces had ever been engaged. Some allied observers said that the national guard units acted more decisively and were more aggressive in using firepower against entrenched Iraqi troops than the regular Saudi forces.
When the massive ground assault against the Iraqi positions began on February 24, 1991, the Saudi troops formed part of two Arab armies. The first, Joint Forces Command North, which also included Egyptian, Syrian, and Kuwaiti troops, was deployed on Kuwait's western border. Joint Forces Command East was deployed along the gulf, immediately south of Kuwait, and consisted of about five brigades from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Senegal. The Saudi national guard formed part of a mobile reserve.
The main attack was led by United States, British, and French forces in the west, directly facing Iraqi territory, and was aimed at cutting links between the Iraqi forces in Kuwait and their sources of supply in Iraq. The ground assault on Kuwait by the Arab forces of Joint Forces Command North was led by two Egyptian divisions on the left and on the right, and the ad hoc Khalid Division, consisting of Saudi and Kuwaiti troops, including the Saudi Twentieth Mechanized Brigade and the Fourth Armored Brigade. As the Khalid Division advanced eastward toward Kuwait City, passages through Iraqi minefields were cleared by allied bombing and engineer operations. On the third day, after light fighting and the surrender of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, Kuwait City was liberated. In the four days of fighting before the Iraqi army defending Kuwait was destroyed, Saudi casualties were minimal. The Saudi navy was also involved, receiving credit for sinking an Iraqi minelayer with a Harpoon antiship missile.
Data as of December 1992
Saudi Arabia Table of Contents