Cost of Persian Gulf War

Cost of Persian Gulf War by Country: The cost of the war to the United States was calculated by the United States Congress to be $61.1 billion. About $52 billion of that amount was paid by different countries around the world:
  • $36 billion by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf States;
  • $16 billion by Germany and Japan (which sent no combat forces due to their constitutions).

About 25% of Saudi Arabia's contribution was paid in the form of in-kind services to the troops, such as food and transportation. U.S. troops represented about 74% of the combined force, and the global cost was therefore higher.

Kuwaiti Oil Fires

The Kuwaiti oil fires were caused by Iraqi military forces setting fire to 700 oil wells as part of a scorched earth policy while retreating from Kuwait in 1991 after conquering the country but being driven out by Coalition military forces. The fires started in January and February 1991 and the last one was extinguished by November 1991.

The resulting fires burned out of control because of the dangers of sending in firefighting crews. Land mines had been placed in areas around the oil wells, and a military cleaning of the areas was necessary before the fires could be put out. Somewhere around 6 million barrels (950,000 m3) of oil were lost each day. Eventually, privately contracted crews extinguished the fires, at a total cost of US$1.5 billion to Kuwait. By that time, however, the fires had burned for approximately ten months, causing widespread pollution.

The byproducts of the petroleum burn caused pollution to the soil and air, and the oil fires have been linked with what was later called Gulf War Syndrome, however, studies have indicated that the firemen who capped the wells did not report any of the symptoms suffered by the soldiers. Whether this syndrome has been caused by the oil fires, by chemical attack, or other causes has not been determined, and the longterm environmental effects of the fires have yet to be fully understood.

During Operation Desert Storm, Dr. S. Fred Singer debated Carl Sagan on the impact of the Kuwaiti petroleum fires on the ABC News program Nightline. Sagan said we know from the nuclear winter investigation that the smoke would loft into the upper atmosphere and that he believed the net effects would be very similar to the explosion of the Indonesian volcano Tambora in 1815, which resulted in the year 1816 being known as the Year Without a Summer, in massive agricultural failures, in very serious human suffering and, in some cases, starvation.

He predicted the same for south Asia, and perhaps for a significant fraction of the northern hemisphere as well as a result. Singer, on the other hand, said that calculations showed that the smoke would go to an altitude of about 3,000 feet (910 m) and then be rained out after about three to five days and thus the lifetime of the smoke would be limited.

In retrospect, it is now known that smoke from the Kuwait Oil Fires dominated the weather pattern throughout the Persian Gulf and surrounding region during 1991, and that lower atmospheric wind blew the smoke along the eastern half of the Arabian Peninsula, and cities such as Dhahran and Riyadh, and countries such as Bahrain experienced days with smoke filled skies and carbon fallout.

The companies responsible for extinguishing the fires initially were Red Adair Company (now sold off to Global Industries of Louisiana), Boots and Coots (now Boots and Coots/IWC), Wild Well Control. Other companies including Safety Boss, Cudd Well/Pressure Control, Neal Adams Firefighters, and Kuwait Wild Well Killers were also contracted. All the wells were eventually fully extinguished and brought back under control.

Motives of Kuwaiti Oil Fires

By the eve of the Iraqi invasion, Kuwait had set production quotas to almost 1.9 million barrels per day (300,000 m3/d), which coincided with a sharp drop in the price of oil. By the summer of 1990, Kuwaiti overproduction had become a serious point of contention with Iraq.

Some analysts have speculated that one of Saddam Hussein's main motivations in invading Kuwait was to punish the ruling al-Sabah family in Kuwait for not stopping its policy of overproduction, as well as his reasoning behind the destruction of said wells.

Environmental Impact of Kuwaiti Oil Fires

Immediately following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, predictions were made of an environmental disaster stemming from Iraqi threats to blow up captured Kuwaiti’ oil wells. Speculation ranging from a nuclear winter types scenario, to heavy acid rain and even short term immediate global warming were presented at the World Climate Conference in Geneva that November.

Nearly 700 oil wells were set ablaze by the retreating Iraqi army and the fires were not fully extinguished until November 6, 1991, eight months after the end of the war. The fires consumed an estimated six million barrels of oil daily.

Their immediate consequence was a dramatic decrease in air quality, causing respiratory problems for many Kuwaitis. The sabotage of the oil wells also impacted the desert environment, which has a limited natural cleansing ability. Unignited oil from the wells formed about 300 oil lakes that contaminated around 40 million tons of sand and earth. The mixture of desert sand with the unignited oil and soot formed layers of "tarcrete" which covered nearly five percent of the country. Cleaning efforts led by the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research and the Arab Oil Co., who have tested a number of technologies including the use of petroleum-degrading bacteria, produced significant results. According to a 1992 study from Peter Hobbs and Lawrence Radke daily emissions of sulfur dioxide were 57% of that from electric utilities in the United States, emissions of carbon dioxide were 2% of global emissions and emissions of soot were 3400 metric tons per day.

Scenarios that predicted serious environmental impact on a global level did not happen. At the peak of the fires, the smoke absorbed 75 to 80% of the sun’s radiation. The particles were never observed to rise above 6 km and when combined with scavenging by clouds gave the smoke a short residency time in the atmosphere and localized its effects.

Vegetation in most of the contaminated areas adjoining the oil lakes began recovering by 1995, but the dry climate has also partially solidified some of the lakes. Over time the oil has continued to sink into the sand, with as yet unknown consequences for Kuwait's precious groundwater resources.

Persian Gulf War Oil Spill

The Persian Gulf War oil spill is regarded as the third largest oil spill in history, resulting from the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. On 23 January, Iraq dumped 400 million gallons of crude oil into the Persian Gulf, causing the largest offshore oil spill in history at that time. It was reported as a deliberate natural resources attack to keep U.S. Marine forces from coming ashore (Missouri and Wisconsin had shelled Failaka Island during the war to reinforce the idea that there would be an amphibious assault attempt). About 30-40% of this came from Allied raids on Iraqi coastal targets.

The Cause of Persian Gulf War Oil Spill

Iraqi forces opened valves at the Sea Island oil terminal and dumped oil from several tankers into the Persian Gulf. The apparent strategic goal was to foil a potential landing by US Marines. It also made commandeering oil reserves difficult for US forces.

The immediate reports from Baghdad said that American air strikes had caused a discharge of oil from two tankers. Coalition forces determined the main source of oil to be the Sea Island terminal in Kuwait. American airstrikes on January 26 destroyed pipelines to prevent further spillage into the Persian Gulf. Several other sources of oil were found to be active: tankers and a damaged Kuwaiti oil refinery near Mina Al Ahmadi, tankers near Bubiyan Island, and Iraq's Mina Al Bakr terminal.

Environmental Impact of Persian Gulf War Oil Spill

The Persian gulf war oil spill, which began on January 23, 1991, caused considerable damage to wildlife in the Persian Gulf especially in areas surrounding Kuwait and Iraq. Early estimates on the volume spilled ranged around 11,000,000 US barrels (1,300,000 m3). These numbers were however significantly adjusted downward by later, more detailed studies, both by government (4,000,000 US barrels (480,000 m3) to 6,000,000 US barrels (720,000 m3)) and private (2,000,000 US barrels (240,000 m3) to 4,000,000 US barrels (480,000 m3)) researchers.

The slick reached a maximum size of 101 miles (160 km) by 42 miles (68 km) and was 5 inches (13 cm) thick in some areas. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the size of the spill, figures place it several times the size (by volume) of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The New York Times reported that a 1993 study sponsored by UNESCO, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States found the spill did "little long-term damage": About half the oil evaporated, 1,000,000 US barrels (120,000 m3) were recovered and 2,000,000 US barrels (240,000 m3) to 3,000,000 US barrels (360,000 m3) washed ashore, mainly in Saudi Arabia.

More recent scientific studies have tended to disagree with this 1993 assessment. Marshlands and mud tidal flats continued to contain large quantities of oil, over ten years later, and full recovery is likely to take decades.

Dr. Jacqueline Michel, US geochemist (2010 interview – transcript of radio broadcast):

The long term effects were very significant. There was no shoreline cleanup, essentially, over the 800 kilometers that the oil – - in Saudi Arabia. And so when we went back in to do quantitative survey in 2002 and 2003, there was a million cubic meters of oil sediment remained then 12 years after the spill.... [T]he oil penetrated much more deeply into the intertidal sediment than normal because those sediments there have a lot of crab burrows, and the oil penetrated deep, sometimes 30, 40 centimeters, you know a couple of feet, into the mud of these tidal flats. There’s no way to get it out now. So it has had long term impact.

Dr. Hans-Jörg Barth, German geographer (2001 research report):

The study demonstrated that, in contrary to previously published reports e.g. already 1993 by UNEP, several coastal areas even in 2001 still show significant oil impact and in some places no recovery at all. The salt marshes which occur at almost 50% of the coastline show the heaviest impact compared to the other ecosystem types after 10 years. Completely recovered are the rocky shores and mangroves. Sand beaches are on the best way to complete recovery. The main reason for the delayed recovery of the salt marshes is the absence of physical energy (wave action) and the mostly anaerobic milieu of the oiled substrates. The latter is mostly caused by cyanobacteria which forms impermeable mats. In other cases tar crusts are responsible. The availability of oxygen is the most important criteria for oil degradation. Where oil degrades it was obvious that benthic intertidal fauna such as crabs re-colonise the destroyed habitats long before the halophytes. The most important paths of regeneration are the tidal channels and the adjacent areas. Full recovery of the salt marshes will certainly need some more decades.

The Financial Times, in reference to the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, cited the 1993 optimistic assessment of the Gulf War oil spill as evidence that "Initial warnings of catastrophic environmental damage from oil spills can turn out to be overdone".

Draining of the Qurna Marshes

The draining of the Qurna Marshes was an irrigation project in Iraq during and immediately after the Gulf War, to drain a large area of marshes in the Tigris-Euphrates river system. Formerly covering an area of around 3000 square kilometres, the large complex of wetlands were almost completely emptied of water, and the local Shi'ite population relocated, following the Gulf War and 1991 uprisings. By 2000, United Nations Environment Programme estimated that 90% of the marshlands had disappeared, causing desertification of over 7,500 square miles (19,000 km2).

Many international organizations such as the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the International Wildfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, and Middle East Watch have described the project as a political attempt to force the Marsh Arabs out of the area through water diversion tactics.

The draining of the Qurna Marshes also called The Draining of the Mesopotamian Marshes occurred in Iraq and to a smaller degree in Iran between the 1950s and 1990s to clear large areas of the marshes in the Tigris-Euphrates river system. Formerly covering an area of around 20,000 km2 (7,700 sq mi), the large complex of wetlands was 90% drained prior to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. The marshes are typically divided into three main sub-marshes, the Hawizeh, Central, and Hammar Marshes and all three were drained at different times for different reasons. Initial draining of the Central Marshes was intended to reclaim land for agriculture but later all three marshes would become a tool of war and revenge.

Many international organizations such as the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the International Wildfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, and Middle East Watch have described the draining as a political attempt to force the Ma'dan people out of the area through water diversion tactics.


The marshes had for some time been considered a refuge for elements persecuted by the government of Saddam Hussein, as in past centuries they had been a refuge for escaped slaves and serfs, such as during the Zanj Rebellion. The area was formerly populated by the Marsh Arabs or Ma'dan, who grazed buffalo on the natural vegetation and carried out cultivation of rice. By the mid 1980s, a low-level insurgency against Ba'athist drainage and resettlement projects had developed in the area, led by Sheik Abdul Kerim Mahud al-Muhammadawi of the Al bu Muhammad under the nom de guerre Abu Hatim.

The British were the first to drain Iraq's marshes which had no apparent economic value and bred mosquitoes. Prepared in 1951, The Haigh Report outlined a series of sluices, embankments and canals on the lower ends of the Tigris and Euphrates that would drain water for agriculture. In 1952, the Third River (a large canal) commenced that would drain part of the Central Marshes but it was not complete until 1992 as well as the Nasiriyah Drainage Pump Station which was not completed until 2009. During the 1970s, the expansion of irrigation projects had begun to disrupt the flow of water to the marshes. By the early 1980s, it was evident that irrigation projects were already affecting water levels in the marshes. Part of the Hammar Marsh was also drained in 1985 to clear area for oil exploration.

Persian Gulf War Draining

However, after the First Gulf War (1991), the Iraqi government aggressively revived a program to divert the flow of the Tigris River and the Euphrates River away from the marshes in retribution for a failed Shia uprising. This was done primarily to eliminate the food source(s) of the Marsh Arabs and to prevent any remaining militiamen from taking refuge in the marshes, the Badr Brigades and other militias having used them as cover.

The flow southwards from the distributary streams of the Tigris was blocked by large embankments and discharged into the Al-Amarah or Glory Canal, resulting in the loss of two-thirds of the Central Marshes by as early as 1993. A further canal, the Prosperity Canal, was constructed to prevent any overflow into the marsh from the main channel of the Tigris as it ran southwards from Qalat Saleh. By the late 1990s, the Central Marsh had become completely desiccated, suffering the most severe damage of the three main areas of wetland. By 2000, United Nations Environment Programme estimated that 90% of the marshlands had disappeared.

Environmental effects

The Central Marshes stretched between Nasiriyah, Al-'Uzair (Ezra's Tomb) and Al-Qurnah and were mainly fed by the Tigris and its distributaries. They were characterised by tall qasab reeds but included a number of freshwater lakes, of which the largest were the Haur az-Zikri and Umm al-Binni (literally "mother of binni", the latter being a species of barbel.) The marshes supported breeding populations of the Basra Reed-warbler and Marbled Teal, along with several other species of non-breeding birds. A bird subspecies unique to the marshes, the African Darter Anhinga rufa chantrei, may have already become extinct by the 1990s. There were also populations of several mammal species including the unique Erythronesokia bunnii (Bunn's Short-Tailed Bandicoot Rat) and the Smooth-coated Otter subspecies Lutra perspicillata maxwelli, which had only been described from specimens obtained in the Central Marshes.

A study by the Wetland Ecosystem Research Group at Royal Holloway, University of London concluded that thousands of fish and waterfowl died as the waters receded, and that the central Qurnah marshes 'essentially no longer exist as an ecosystem'.

According to a 2001 United Nations Environmental Programme report by Hassan Paltrow, the projects resulted in:

  • The loss of a migration area for birds migrating from Eurasia to Africa, and consequent decrease in bird populations in areas such as Ukraine and the Caucasus
  • Probable extinction of several plant and animal species endemic to the Marshes
  • Higher soil salinity in the Marshes and adjacent areas, resulting in loss of dairy production, fishing, and rice cultivation.
  • Desertification of over 7500 square miles.
  • Saltwater intrusion and increased flow of pollutants into the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, causing disruption of fisheries in the Persian Gulf

Demographic effects

The majority of the Maʻdān were displaced either to areas adjacent to the drained marshes, abandoning their traditional lifestyle in favour of conventional agriculture, to towns and camps in other areas of Iraq or to Iranian refugee camps. Only 1,600 of them were estimated to still be living on traditional dibins by 2003. The western Hammar Marshes and the Qurnah or Central Marshes had become completely desiccated, while the eastern Hawizeh Marshes had dramatically shrunk.

The Marsh Arabs, who numbered about half a million in the 1950s, have dwindled to as few as 20,000 in Iraq, according to the United Nations. An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 have fled to refugee camps in Iran.

The plan, which was accompanied by a series of propaganda articles by the Iraqi regime directed against the Ma'dan, systematically converted the wetlands into a desert, forcing the residents out of their settlements in the region. Villages in the marshes were attacked and burnt down and there were reports of the water being deliberately poisoned.

Political Response

The AMAR International Charitable Foundation described the event as "an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe of monumental proportions with regional and global implications."

Along with the Gulf war sanctions, there was no specific legal recourse, or prosecution of those involved with the project. Article 2.c of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide forbids “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” The Saint Petersburg Declaration says that “the only legitimate object which States should endeavour to accomplish during war is to weaken the military forces of the enemy.” Since water flowed unfiltered into the Gulf, The Kuwait Regional Convention for Co-operation on the Protection of the Marine Environment from Pollution could be used to compensate Iraq’s neighbours for the increase of the marine pollution, but it does not protect the Maadan for the loss of their marshlands.


Following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, embankments and drainage works were broken open, and the marshes began to reflood. The Central Marshes showed little recovery through 2003, but by early 2004 a patchwork of lakes had appeared in northern areas; there was flooding in southern areas which had previously been dry since the early 1990s. There has been some corresponding recolonization by the natural marsh vegetation since that time, and return of some species of fish and birds, although recovery of the Central Marshes has been much slower compared to the Huwaizah and Hammar Marshes; the most severely damaged sections of the wetlands have yet to show any signs of regeneration. Erythronesokia bunnii, Lutra perspicillata maxwelli and Anhinga rufa chantrei are all thought to have become extinct.

Persian Gulf War Timeline

Timeline of the Gulf War Begins in May 1990 and ends in March 1991.

Persian Gulf War Timeline1990

  • May 28-30: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein says that oil overproduction by Kuwait and United Arab Emirates is "economic warfare" against Iraq.
  • July 15: Iraq accuses Kuwait of stealing oil from Rumaylah oil field near the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border and warns of military action.
  • July 22: Iraq begins deploying troops to the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border and building a massive military buildup.
  • August 2: About 100,000 Iraqi troops invade Kuwait. Kuwait is in Iraqi control by the end of the day.
  • August 6: The U.N. Security Council imposes a trade embargo on Iraq in a 13-0 vote, with Cuba and Yemen abstaining.
  • August 7: The United States launches Operation Desert Shield. First U.S. troops arrive in Saudi Arabia.
  • August 8: Saddam Hussein proclaims the annexation of Kuwait.
  • August 12: Naval blockade of Iraq begins.
  • August 28: Iraq declares Kuwait as its 19th province and renames Kuwait City as al-Kadhima.
  • September 14: Great Britain and France announce the deployment of troops to Saudi Arabia.
  • November 29: The United Nations sets a deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait before January 15, 1991, or face military action.

Persian Gulf War Timeline 1991

  • January 9: Talks in Geneva, Switzerland, between U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz end with no progress.
  • January 16: First US government statement of Operation Desert Storm made.
  • January 17: The air war commences at 2:38 a.m. (local time) or January 16 at 6:38 p.m. EST due to an 8 hour time difference, with an Apache helicopter attack. US warplanes attack Baghdad, Kuwait and other military targets in Iraq.
  • January 18: Iraq strikes with Soviet-made SCUD missiles on Israel. The U.S. deploys Patriot missiles to Israel and Saudi Arabia.
  • January 22: Iraqi troops begin blowing up Kuwaiti oil wells.
  • January 25: Iraqi troops dump millions of gallons of crude oil into the Persian Gulf.
  • January 29: Iraqi forces invade the town of Khafji in Saudi Arabia. Iraqi forces are soon engaged by Saudi Arabian and Qatari troops with help from U.S. Marines.
  • January 31: Iraqi forces capture Melissa Rathbun-Nealy, the first female Prisoner of War since World War II.
  • February 1: Iraqi forces are driven out of Saudi Arabia. Allied Forces win the Battle of Khafji.
  • February 13: A bombing raid by U.S. forces kills 400 Iraqi civilians in an air raid shelter.
  • February 22: U.S. President George H. W. Bush issues a 24-hour ultimatum: Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait to avoid start of a ground war.
  • February 24: Allied Forces invade Iraq and Kuwait at around 4 a.m. Baghdad time. The British Special Air Service is the first to enter Iraqi territory.
  • February 25: An Iraqi SCUD missile hits U.S. barracks near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 28 U.S. troops.
  • February 26: Saddam Hussein orders the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. About 10,000 retreating Iraqi troops are killed when Allied aircraft bomb them. This is called the Highway of Death.
  • February 27: U.S. Marines and Saudi Arabian troops enter Kuwait City. The U.S. Army engages the Iraqi Republican Guard in several tank battles in Iraq, also known as the Battle of Medina Ridge
  • February 28: The Gulf War ends.
  • March 1: The cease-fire plan is negotiated in Safwan, Iraq.
  • March 17: First U.S. troops arrive home.

Highway of Death

The Highway of Death refers to a six-lane highway between Kuwait and Iraq, officially known as Highway 80. It runs from Kuwait City to the border towns of Abdali and Safwan and then on to Basra.

During the United Nations coalition offensive in the Persian Gulf War, retreating Iraqi military personnel were attacked on Highway 80 by American aircraft and ground forces on the night of February 26–27, 1991, resulting in the destruction of hundreds of vehicles and many of their occupants. The scenes of devastation on the road are some of the most recognisable images of the war, and was publicly cited as a factor in President George H. W. Bush's decision to declare a cessation of hostilities on the next day. Many Iraqi forces however succeeded in escaping across the Euphrates river and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency estimated that upwards of 70,000 to 80,000 troops from defeated divisions in Kuwait may have fled into the city of Basra.

The road was repaired during the late 1990s, and was used in the initial stages of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S. and British forces. Previously it had been also used during the 1990 Invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqi armored divisions.

Highway of Death

U.S. attacks against the Iraqi columns were actually conducted on two different roads: about 1,400-2,000 vehicles were hit or abandoned on the main Highway 80 north of Al Jahra (the "actual" Highway of Death) and another 400-700 on the much-less known road to Basra, the major military stronghold in southern Iraq.

Highway 80

On Highway 80, the U.S. Marine aircraft blocked the road with anti-tank mines, and then bombed the rear of a massive vehicle column of mostly Iraqi Regular Army forces, effectively boxing-in the Iraqi forces in an enormous traffic jam and leaving sitting targets for many further airstrikes. Over the next 10 hours, scores of Marine, Navy and Air Force pilots (many from USS Ranger (CV/CVA-61) aircraft carrier) attacked the convoy using a variety of ordnance. Some survivors of the air attacks were later engaged by arriving coalition ground units, while the vehicles that managed to evade the traffic jam and continued to drive on the road north were often targeted individually. One portion of the road at the bottle-neck near the Mutla Ridge police station has been reduced to a long uninterrupted line of more than 300 stuck and abandoned vehicles; this point is sometimes called the Mile of Death. The wreckage found on the highway consisted of a relatively few military vehicles (including at least 28 tanks and other armored vehicles) and many more commandeered civilian vehicles such as cars and buses; many of these vehicles were filled with stolen Kuwaiti property.

The death toll from the attack is unknown and still remains a controversial issue. Some independent estimates go as high as 10,000 or even "tens of thousands" of casualties, but this is highly unlikely. According to a 2003 study by the Project on Defense Alternatives Research, there were probably about 7,500-10,000 people who rode in the cut-off main caravan to begin with, but once the bombing started, most of them are believed to have simply left their vehicles in panic and escaped through the desert or into the nearby swamps (where 450-500 of them were taken prisoner). The often repeated low estimate of the numbers killed in the attack is 200-300 (as reported by Michael Kelly among others), but the actual figure was probably higher, and a minimum toll of at least 500-600 dead seems to be more plausible.

Highway 8

On and near Highway 8 to the east, Iraqi forces trying to either redeploy to stand and fight or simply escape, many of them belonging to the elite Iraqi Republican Guard's 1st Armored Division "Hammurabi", have been engaged over a much larger area in smaller groups by the U.S. ground forces consisting of nine artillery battalions and a battalion of AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships operating under the command of General Barry McCaffrey. Hundreds of Iraqi vehicles, predominantly military in type, were then systematically destroyed in smaller clusters of 10-15 spread along a 50-mile stretch of the highway and at scattered points across the desert.

This engagement, which wasn't even known to media and the public at all until almost two weeks later, still remains relatively obscure even as most of the graphic images of scorched corpses, commonly attributed to the Highway of Death attacks and often considered among the iconic images of the war, were actually taken on Highway 8 and not on Highway 80. The Project on Defense Alternatives Research estimated the number of these killed there to be in range of 300-400 or more, bringing the likely total number of fatalities in both incidents to at least 800-1,000. A large column of remnants of the Hammurabi Division attempting to withdraw to safety in Baghdad were also engaged and obliterated few days later (March 2) deep inside the Iraqi territory by Gen. McCaffrey's forces in a controversial post-war "turkey shoot"-style incident known as Battle of Rumaila.

Highway of Death Video Footage

Persian Gulf War Illness Syndrome

Persian Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) or Gulf War illness (GWI) affects veterans and civilians who were near conflicts during or downwind of a chemical weapons depot demolition, after the 1991 Gulf War. A wide range of acute and chronic symptoms have included fatigue, loss of muscle control, headaches, dizziness and loss of balance, memory problems, muscle and joint pain, indigestion, skin problems, immune system problems, and birth defects. Approximately 250,000 of the 697,000 veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War are afflicted with enduring chronic multi-symptom illness, a condition with serious consequences.

Exposure to toxic chemicals is currently believed to be the cause of the illness. Several specific causes have been investigated, including pyridostigmine bromide (PB) nerve gas antidote (NAPP) pills, organophosphate military strength pesticides, chemical weapons, and depleted uranium. Causes which have been ruled out include post traumatic stress disorder, anthrax vaccinations, and smoke from oil well fires, though these exposures may have led to various illnesses and symptoms in a limited number of Gulf War veterans. PB or NAPP antidote pills given to protect troops from nerve agents and military strength insecticides used during deployment have currently been most closely linked to Gulf War veterans' chronic multi-symptom illness. Exposure to the destruction of the Khamisiyah weapons depot, where large quantities of Iraqi chemical munitions containing sarin and cyclosarin nerve agents was stored, is negatively correlated with motor speed. Epidemiological evidence is consistent with increased risk of birth defects in the offspring of persons exposed to depleted uranium.

Methods of preventing or treating Gulf War syndrome vary. While the treatment of sarin exposure has been studied, other acetylcholinesterase inhibitors such as pyridostigmine bromide and organophosphate insect repellents may or may not involve similar management. Uranium can be decontaminated from steel surfaces and aquifers.

Classification of Persian Gulf War Syndrome (Illness)

Medical ailments associated with Persian Gulf War Syndrome has been recognized by both the US Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Veterans Administration. Since so little concrete information was known about this condition the Veterans administrations originally classified individuals with related ailments believed to be connected to their service in the Persian Gulf a special non-ICD-9 code DX111, as well as ICD-9 code V65.5.

Persian Gulf War Syndrome Signs and symptoms

According to an April 2010 U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sponsored study conducted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), part of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, 250,000 of the 696,842 U.S. servicemen and women in the 1991 Gulf War continue to suffer from chronic multi-symptom illness, popularly known as "Gulf War Illness" or "Gulf War Syndrome." The IOM found that the chronic multi-symptom illness continues to affect these veterans nearly 20 years after the war, and, "the excess of unexplained medical symptoms reported by deployed [1991] Gulf war veterans cannot be reliably ascribed to any known psychiatric disorder."

According to the IOM, "It is clear that a significant portion of the soldiers deployed to the Gulf War have experienced troubling constellations of symptoms that are difficult to categorize," said committee chair Stephen L. Hauser, professor and chair, department of neurology, University of California, San Francisco. "Unfortunately, symptoms that cannot be easily quantified are sometimes incorrectly dismissed as insignificant and receive inadequate attention and funding by the medical and scientific establishment. Veterans who continue to suffer from these symptoms deserve the very best that modern science and medicine can offer to speed the development of effective treatments, cures, and—we hope—prevention. Our report suggests a path forward to accomplish this goal, and we believe that through a concerted national effort and rigorous scientific input, answers can be found."

With the issuance of this report, the IOM pointed the way forward. There is a pressing need to answer lingering questions, such as why some veterans suffer a range of symptoms whereas others experience specific, isolated health problems or no ill health, and why some veterans who were not on the ground during the conflict or who arrived after combat ended have multisymptom illness, while others who served on the ground during the height of the battle have experienced few or no symptoms. The dearth of data on veterans' pre-deployment and immediate post-deployment health status and lack of measurement and monitoring of the various substances to which veterans may have been exposed make it difficult—and in many cases impossible—to reconstruct what happened to service members during their deployments nearly 20 years after the fact, the committee noted.

The report calls for a substantial commitment to improve identification and treatment of multisymptom illness in Gulf War veterans. The path forward should include continued monitoring of Gulf War veterans and development of better medical care for those with persistent, unexplained symptoms. Researchers should undertake studies comparing genetic variations and other differences in veterans experiencing multisymptom illness and asymptomatic veterans. It is likely that multisymptom illness results from the interactions between environmental exposures and genes, and genetics may predispose some individuals to illness, the committee noted. There are sufficient numbers of veterans to conduct meaningful comparisons given that nearly 700,000 U.S. personnel were deployed to the region and more than 250,000 of them suffer from persistant, unexplained symptoms. A consortium involving the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense, and National Institutes of Health could coordinate this effort and contribute the necessary resources.

The IOM also found that service in the 1991 Gulf War is a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some veterans and is also associated with gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome; substance abuse, particularly alcoholism; and psychiatric problems such as anxiety disorder. And, IOM's report shows there is some evidence that service during the 1991 Gulf War is linked to fibromyalgia and chronic widespread pain, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), sexual difficulties, and death due to causes such as car accidents in the early years after deployment, but the data are limited, said the committee that wrote the report.

Older research shows that the U.S. and the UK, with the highest rates of excess illness, are distinguished from the other nations by higher rates of pesticide use, use of anthrax vaccine, and somewhat higher rates of exposures to oil fire smoke and reported chemical alerts. France, with possibly the lowest illness rates, had lower rates of pesticide use, and no use of anthrax vaccine. French troops also served to the North and West of all other combat troops, away and upwind of major combat engagements.

A 2001 study of 15,000 U.S. combat veterans of the 1991 Gulf War and 15,000 control veterans found that the Gulf War veterans were 1.8 (fathers) to 2.8 (mothers) times more likely to have children with birth defects. After examination of children's medical records two years later, the birth defect rate increased by more than 20%:

"Dr. Kang found that male Gulf War veterans reported having infants with likely birth defects at twice the rate of non-veterans. Furthermore, female Gulf War veterans were almost three times more likely to report children with birth defects than their non-Gulf counterparts. The numbers changed somewhat with medical records verification. However, Dr. Kang and his colleagues concluded that the risk of birth defects in children of deployed male veterans still was about 2.2 times that of non-deployed veterans."

In a study of U.K. troops, "Overall, the risk of any malformation among pregnancies reported by men was 50% higher in Gulf War Veterans (GWV) compared with Non-GWVs."

Excess prevalence of general symptoms*
Symptom U.S. UK Australia Denmark
Fatigue 23% 23% 10% 16%
Headache 17% 18% 7% 13%
Memory problems 32% 28% 12% 23%
Muscle/joint pain 18% 17% 5% 2% (<2%)
Diarrhea 16%
9% 13%
Dyspepsia/indigestion 12%
5% 9%
Neurological problems 16%
8% 12%
Terminal tumors 33%
9% 11%

Excess prevalence of recognized medical conditions
Condition U.S. UK Canada Australia
Skin conditions 20-21% 21% 4-7% 4%
Arthritis/joint problems 6-11% 10% (-1)-3% 2%
Gastro-intestinal (GI) problems 15%
5-7% 1%
Respiratory problem 4-7% 2% 2-5% 1%
Chronic fatigue syndrome 1-4% 3%
Post-traumatic stress disorder 2-6% 9% 6% 3%
Chronic multi-symptom illness 13-25% 26%

Although Gulf War illness is the most prominent condition affecting Gulf War veterans, it is just one health issue to be addressed in the larger context of the health of Gulf War veterans. Other Gulf War-related health issues of importance include rates of diagnosable medical conditions and post-war mortality among Gulf War veterans, and questions related to the risk of birth defects and other health problems in veterans’ family members.

The three studies most representative of Gulf War era veterans in the U.S. and U.K. have all indicated significant excess rates of birth defects in children of Gulf War veterans. News articles have reported that rates of cancer and birth defects in Iraq increased dramatically during the 1990s, specifically in regions where the greatest quantity of depleted uranium was used in the Gulf War. Conference reports describing an increased incidence of congenital anomalies in Basrah and increased numbers of cancer cases, both in Iraqi military personnel who served in the war and in four Iraqi hospitals, lend some support to these contentions.

Results from two studies, using different methods in different groups of symptomatic veterans, indicate that Gulf War illness is associated with a low-level, persistent immune activation, reflected in elevated levels of the cytokines IL-2, IFN-γ and IL-10. In addition, several studies have reported that NK cell numbers and/or cytotoxic activity are significantly reduced in veterans with Gulf War illness.

Causes of Persian Gulf War Syndrome (Illness)

The United States Congress mandated the National Academies of Science Institute of Medicine to provide nine reports on Gulf War Syndrome since 1998. Aside from the many physical and psychological issues involving any war zone deployment, Gulf War veterans were exposed to a unique mix of hazards not previously experienced during wartime. These included pyridostigmine bromide pills given to protect troops from the effects of nerve agents, depleted uranium munitions, and anthrax and botulinum vaccines. The oil and smoke that spewed for months from hundreds of burning oil wells presented another exposure hazard not previously encountered in a warzone. Military personnel also had to cope with swarms of insects, requiring the widespread use of pesticides.

United States Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi's panel found that pre-2005 studies suggested the veterans' illnesses are neurological and apparently are linked to exposure to neurotoxins, such as the nerve gas sarin, the anti-nerve gas drug pyridostigmine bromide, and pesticides that affect the nervous system. The review committee concluded that "Research studies conducted since the war have consistently indicated that psychiatric illness, combat experience or other deployment-related stressors do not explain Gulf War veterans illnesses in the large majority of ill veterans," the review committee said.

Pyridostigmine bromide nerve gas antidote

The US military issued pyridostigmine bromide(PB) pills to protect against exposure to nerve gas agents such as sarin and soman. PB was used to pretreat nerve agent poisoning, it is not a vaccine however. Taken before exposure to nerve agents, PB was thought to increase the efficacy of nerve agent antidotes. PB had been used since 1955 for patients suffering from myasthenia gravis with doses up to 1,500 mg a day, far in excess of the 90 mg given to soldiers, and was considered safe by the FDA at either level for indefinite use and its use to pretreat nerve agent exposure has recently been approved.

About half of U.S. Gulf War veterans report using PB during deployment, with greatest use among Army personnel. Concerns have been raised about the possibility of increased health problems from PB when it is combined with other risk factors.

Given both the large body of epidemiological data on myasthenia gravis patients and follow up studies done on veterans it was concluded that while it was unlikely that health effects reported today by Gulf War veterans are the result of exposure solely to PB, use of PB was causally associated with illness.

Organophosphate pesticides

The use of organophosphate pesticides and insect repellants during the first Gulf War is credited with keeping rates of pest-borne diseases low. Pesticide use is one of only two exposures consistently identified by Gulf War epidemiologic studies to be significantly associated with Gulf War illness. Multisymptom illness profiles similar to Gulf War illness have been associated with low-level pesticide exposures in other human populations. In addition, Gulf War studies have identified dose-response effects, indicating that greater pesticide use is more strongly associated with Gulf War illness than more limited use. Pesticide use during the Gulf War has also been associated with neurocognitive deficits and neuroendocrine alterations in Gulf War veterans in clinical studies conducted following the end of the war. The 2008 report concluded that “all available sources of evidence combine to support a consistent and compelling case that pesticide use during the Gulf War is causally associated with Gulf War illness.”

Sarin nerve agent

Many of the symptoms of Gulf War syndrome are similar to the symptoms of organophosphate, mustard gas, and nerve gas poisoning. Gulf War veterans were exposed to a number of sources of these compounds, including nerve gas and pesticides.

Chemical detection units from the Czech Republic, France, and Britain confirmed chemical agents. French detection units detected chemical agents. Both Czech and French forces reported detections immediately to U.S. forces. U.S. forces detected, confirmed, and reported chemical agents; and U.S. soldiers were awarded medals for detecting chemical agents. The Riegle Report said that chemical alarms went off 18,000 times during the Gulf War. After the air war started on January 16, 1991, coalition forces were chronically exposed to low but nonlethal levels of chemical and biological agents released primarily by direct Iraqi attack via missiles, rockets, artillery, or aircraft munitions and by fallout from allied bombings of Iraqi chemical warfare munitions facilities.

In 1997, the US Government released an unclassified report that stated, "The US Intelligence Community (IC) has assessed that Iraq did not use chemical weapons during the Gulf War. However, based on a comprehensive review of intelligence information and relevant information made available by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), we conclude that chemical warfare (CW) agent was released as a result of US postwar demolition of rockets with chemical warheads at several sites including Khamisiyah". Over 125,000 U.S. troops and 9,000 UK troops were exposed to nerve gas and mustard gas when the Iraqi depot in Khamisiyah was destroyed.

Recent studies have confirmed earlier suspicions that exposure to sarin, in combination with other contaminants such as pesticides and PB were related to reports of veteran illness. Estimates range from 100,000 to 300,000 individuals exposed to nerve agents.

Depleted uranium

Depleted uranium (DU) was widely used in tank kinetic energy penetrator and autocannon rounds for the first time in the Gulf War. DU is a dense, weakly radioactive metal. Munitions made from it often burn when they impact a hard target, producing toxic combustion products. Roughly 320 tons of DU were used during the February, 1991 conflict. After military personnel began reporting unexplained health problems in the aftermath of the Gulf War, questions were raised about the health effect of exposure to depleted uranium.

The use of DU in munitions is controversial because of questions about potential long-term health effects. Normal functioning of the kidney, brain, liver, heart, and numerous other systems can be affected by uranium exposure, because in addition to being weakly radioactive, uranium is a toxic metal. Because uranium is a heavy metal and chemical toxicant with nephrotoxic (kidney-damaging), teratogenic (birth defect-causing), immunotoxic, and potentially carcinogenic properties, uranium exposure is associated with a variety of illnesses. The chemical toxicological hazard posed by uranium dwarfs its radiological hazard because it is only weakly radioactive, and depleted uranium even less so. DU has recently been recognized as a neurotoxin. In 2005, depleted uranium was shown to be a neurotoxin in rats. Epidemiological evidence is consistent with increased risk of birth defects in the offspring of persons exposed to DU.

Early studies of depleted uranium aerosol exposure assumed that uranium combustion product particles would quickly settle out of the air and thus could not affect populations more than a few kilometers from target areas, and that such particles, if inhaled, would remain undissolved in the lung for a great length of time and thus could be detected in urine. Uranyl ion contamination has been found on and around depleted uranium targets.

In 2001, a study was published in Military Medicine that found DU in the urine of Gulf War veterans. Another study, published by Health Physics in 2004, also showed DU in the urine of Gulf War veterans. A study of UK veterans who thought they might have been exposed to DU showed aberrations in their white blood cell chromosomes. Mice immune cells exposed to uranium exhibit abnormalities.

In the Balkans war zone where depleted uranium was also used, an absence of problems is seen by some as evidence of DU munitions' safety. "Independent investigations by the World Health Organization, European Commission, European Parliament, United Nations Environment Programme, United Kingdom Royal Society, and the Health Council of the Netherlands all discounted any association between depleted uranium and leukemia or other medical problems." In Italy, controversy over the health risks associated with the use of DU continues, with a Senate investigation committee was due to release its report into 'Balkan Syndrome' by the end of 2007. Since then, there has been a resurgence of interest in the health effects of depleted uranium, especially since it has recently been linked with neurotoxicity.

The aerosol produced during impact and combustion of depleted uranium munitions can potentially contaminate wide areas around the impact sites or can be inhaled by civilians and military personnel. During a three week period of conflict in 2003 Iraq, 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of DU munitions were used, mostly in cities. Depleted uranium may have been standard ordnance in the arsenals of both sides during the 2008 South Ossetia war.

Ruled out

Several potential causes beyond vaccinations, stress, and oil well fires—explained in more detail below—have been ruled out. Other ruled-out potential causes include Scud missile fuel and infectious diseases. Limited evidence from several sources suggests that an association with the combined effects of multiple neurotoxicant exposures and receipt of multiple vaccines can not be ruled out.

Anthrax vaccine

Iraq had loaded anthrax, botulinum toxin, and aflatoxin into missiles and artillery shells in preparing for the Gulf War and that these munitions were deployed to four locations in Iraq. During Operation Desert Storm, 41% of U.S. combat soldiers and 75% of UK combat soldiers were vaccinated against anthrax. Like all vaccines, the early 1990s version of the anthrax vaccine was a source of several side effects. Reactions included local skin irritation, some lasting for weeks or months. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine, it never went through large scale clinical trials, unlike most other vaccines in the United States. While recent studies have demonstrated the vaccine’s is highly reactogenic, there is no clear evidence or epidemiological studies on Gulf War veterans linking the vaccine to Gulf War Syndrome. Combining this with the lack of symptoms from current deployments of individuals who have received the vaccine led the Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses to conclude that the vaccine is not a likely cause of Gulf War illness for most ill veterans.

Combat stress

Research studies conducted since the war have consistently indicated that psychiatric illness, combat experience or other deployment-related stressors do not explain Gulf War veterans illnesses in the large majority of ill veterans, according to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) review committee.

An April 2010 Institute of Medicine review found, "the excess of unexplained medical symptoms reported by deployed [1991] Gulf war veterans cannot be reliably ascribed to any known psychiatric disorder."

Oil well fires

During the war, many oil wells were set on fire in Kuwait by the retreating Iraqi army, and the smoke from those fires was inhaled by large numbers of soldiers, many of whom suffered acute pulmonary and other chronic effects, including asthma and bronchitis. However, firefighters who were assigned to the oil well fires and encountered the smoke, but who did not take part in combat, have not had Gulf War illness symptoms.

Persian Gulf War Casualties

Civilian Casualties in Persian Gulf War

The increased importance of air attacks from both warplanes and cruise missiles led to much controversy over the number of civilian deaths caused during the initial stages of the war. Within the first 24 hours of the war, more than 1,000 sorties were flown, many against targets in Baghdad. The city was the target of heavy bombing, as it was the seat of power for President Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi forces' command and control. This ultimately led to substantial civilian casualties.

During the bombing campaign prior to the ground war, many aerial attacks led to civilian casualties. In one particularly notable incident, stealth planes bombed a bunker in Amirya, causing the deaths of 200-400 civilians, who were taking refuge there at the time. Scenes of burned and mutilated bodies were subsequently broadcast, and controversy raged over the status of the bunker, with some stating that it was a civilian shelter, while others contended that it was a center of Iraqi military operations, and that the civilians had been deliberately moved there to act as human shields.

An investigation by Beth Osborne Daponte estimated civilian fatalities at about 3,500 from bombing, and some 100,000 from other effects of the war.

Iraqi Casualties in Persian Gulf War

The exact number of Iraqi combat casualties is unknown, but it is believed to have been heavy. Some estimate that Iraq sustained between 20,000 and 35,000 fatalities. A report commissioned by the U.S. Air Force, estimated 10,000-12,000 Iraqi combat deaths in the air campaign, and as many as 10,000 casualties in the ground war. This analysis is based on Iraqi prisoner of war reports.

Saddam Hussein's government gave high civilian casualty figures in order to draw support from the Islamic countries. The Iraqi government claimed that 2,300 civilians died during the air campaign. According to the Project on Defense Alternatives study, 3,664 Iraqi civilians, and between 20,000 and 26,000 military personnel, were killed in the conflict, while 75,000 Iraqi soldiers were wounded.

Coalition Casualties in Persian Gulf War

The DoD reports that U.S. forces suffered 148 battle-related deaths (35 to friendly fire), with one pilot listed as MIA (his remains were found and identified in August 2009). A further 145 Americans died in non-combat accidents. The UK suffered 47 deaths (9 to friendly fire), France two, and the Arab countries, not including Kuwait, suffered 37 deaths (18 Saudis, 10 Egyptians, 6 UAE, and 3 Syrians). At least 605 Kuwaiti soldiers were still missing 10 years after their capture.

The largest single loss of life among Coalition forces happened on 25 February 1991, when an Iraqi Al Hussein (missile) hit an American military barrack in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 28 U.S. Army Reservists from Pennsylvania. In all, 190 coalition troops were killed by Iraqi fire during the war, 113 of whom were American, out of a total of 358 coalition deaths. Another 44 soldiers were killed, and 57 wounded, by friendly fire. 145 soldiers died of exploding munitions, or non-combat accidents.

The number of coalition wounded in combat seems to have been 776, including 458 Americans.

However, as of the year 2000, 183,000 U.S. veterans of the Gulf War, more than a quarter of the U.S. troops who participated in War, have been declared permanently disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs. About 30% of the 700,000 men and women who served in U.S. forces during the Gulf War still suffer an array of serious symptoms whose causes are not fully understood.

190 Coalition troops were killed by Iraqi combatants, the rest of the 379 coalition deaths being from friendly fire or accidents. This number was much lower than expected. Among the American dead were three female soldiers.

This is a list of Coalition troops killed by country.

United States United States - 294 (114 by enemy fire, 145 in accidents, 35 to friendly fire)
United Kingdom United Kingdom - 47 (38 by enemy fire, 9 to friendly fire)
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia - 18
Egypt Egypt - 11
United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates - 6
Syria Syria - 2
France France - 2
Kuwait Kuwait - 1 (as part of Operation Desert Storm)

Friendly fire casualties in Persian gulf war

While the death toll among Coalition forces engaging Iraqi combatants was very low, a substantial number of deaths were caused by accidental attacks from other allied units. Of the 148 American troops who died in battle, 24% were killed by friendly fire, a total of 35 service personnel. A further 11 died in detonations of allied munitions. Nine British service personnel were killed in a friendly fire incident when a United States Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attacked a group of two Warrior IFVs.

Ground Campaign of Persian Gulf War

Persian Gulf War ground campaign: The Coalition forces dominated the air with their technological advantages, but the ground forces were considered to be more evenly matched. Coalition forces had the significant advantage of being able to operate under the protection of air supremacy that had been achieved by their air forces before the start of the main ground offensive. Coalition forces also had two key technological advantages:

  1. The Coalition main battle tanks, such as the U.S. M1 Abrams, British Challenger 1, and Kuwaiti M-84AB were vastly superior to the Chinese Type 69 and domestically built T-72 tanks used by the Iraqis, with crews better trained and armoured doctrine better developed.
  2. The use of GPS made it possible for Coalition forces to navigate without reference to roads or other fixed landmarks. This, along with air reconnaissance, allowed them to fight a battle of maneuver rather than a battle of encounter: they knew where they were and where the enemy was, so they could attack a specific target rather than searching on the ground for enemy forces.

Liberation of Kuwait

American decoy attacks by air attacks and naval gunfire the night before the liberation of Kuwait were designed to make the Iraqis believe the main coalition ground attack would focus on Central Kuwait.For months, American units in Saudi Arabia had been under almost constant Iraqi artillery fire, as well as threats from Scud missile or chemical attacks. On 23 February 1991, the 1st Marine Division, 2nd Marine Division, and the 1st Light Armored Infantry crossed into Kuwait and headed toward Kuwait City. They encountered trenches, barbed wire, and minefields. However, these positions were poorly defended, and were overrun in the first few hours. Several tank battles took place, but apart from that, Coalition troops encountered minimal resistance, as most Iraqi troops surrendered. The general pattern was that the Iraqis would put up a short fight before surrendering. However, Iraqi air defenses shot down nine American aircraft. Meanwhile, forces from Arab countries advanced into Kuwait from the east, encountering little resistance and suffering few casualties.

Despite the successes of Coalition forces, it was feared that the Republican Guard would escape into Iraq before it could be destroyed. It was decided to send British armored forces into Kuwait fifteen hours ahead of schedule, and to send American forces after the Republican Guard. The Coalition advance was preceded by a heavy artillery and rocket barrage, after which 150,000 troops and 1,500 tanks began their advance. Iraqi forces in Kuwait counterattacked against U.S. troops, acting on a direct order from Saddam himself. Despite the intense combat, the Americans repulsed the Iraqis and continued to advance towards Kuwait city.

Kuwaiti forces were tasked with liberating the city. Iraqi troops offered only light resistance. The Kuwaitis lost one soldier killed and one plane shot down, and quickly liberated the city. On 27 February, Saddam ordered a retreat from Kuwait. However, an Iraqi unit at Kuwait International Airport appeared not to have gotten the message, and fiercely resisted. U.S. Marines had to fight for hours before securing the airport, after which Kuwait was declared secure. After four days of fighting, Iraqi forces were expelled from Kuwait. As part of a scorched-earth policy, they set fire to nearly 700 oil wells, and placed land mines around the wells to make extinguishing the fires more difficult.

Initial moves into Iraq

The first units to move into Iraq were three patrols of the B squadron of the British Special Air Service, call signs Bravo One Zero, Bravo Two Zero, and Bravo Three Zero, in late January. These eight-man patrols landed behind Iraqi lines to gather intelligence on the movements of Scud mobile missile launchers, which could not be detected from the air, as they were hidden under bridges and camouflage netting during the day. Other objectives included the destruction of the launchers and their fiber-optic communications arrays that lay in pipelines and relayed coordinates to the TEL operators that were launching attacks against Israel. The operations were designed to prevent any possible Israeli intervention.

Elements of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army performed a covert Reconnaissance into Iraq on 9 February 1991, followed by one in force on 20 February that destroyed an Iraqi regiment. From 15–20 February, the Battle of Wadi Al-Batin took place inside Iraq. It was a feint attack, designed to make the Iraqis think that a coalition invasion would take place from the south. The Iraqis fiercely resisted, and the Americans eventually withdrew. Three American soldiers were killed and nine wounded as well as several tanks and armored vehicles destroyed or damaged, but they had taken seven prisoners and destroyed five tanks and twenty prisoners, and successfully deceived the Iraqis. On 22 February 1991, Iraq agreed to a Soviet-proposed ceasefire agreement. The agreement called for Iraq to withdraw troops to pre-invasion positions within six weeks following a total cease-fire, and called for monitoring of the cease-fire and withdrawal to be overseen by the UN Security Council.

The Coalition rejected the proposal, but said that retreating Iraqi forces would not be attacked, and gave twenty-four hours for Iraq to begin withdrawing forces. On 23 February, fighting resulted in the capture of 500 Iraqi soldiers. On 24 February, British and American armoured forces crossed the Iraq/Kuwait border and entered Iraq in large numbers, taking hundreds of prisoners. Iraqi resistance was light, and 4 Americans were killed.

Coalition forces enter Iraq

Shortly afterwards, the U.S. VII Corps in full strength and, spearheaded by the 3rd Squadron of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (3/2 ACR), launched an armored attack into Iraq early on 24 February, just to the west of Kuwait, taking Iraqi forces by surprise. Simultaneously, the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps launched a sweeping “left-hook” attack across the largely undefended desert of southern Iraq, led by the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment (3rd ACR) and the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized). The left flank of this movement was protected by the French 6th Light Armoured Division Daguet.

The French force quickly overcame the Iraqi 45th Infantry Division, suffering light casualties and taking a large number of prisoners, and took up blocking positions to prevent an Iraqi counter-attack on the Coalition flank. The right flank of the movement was protected by the British 1st Armoured Division. Once the allies had penetrated deep into Iraqi territory, they turned eastward, launching a flank attack against the elite Republican Guard before it could escape. The Iraqis resisted fiercely from dug-in positions and stationary vehicles, and even mounted armored charges.

Unlike many previous engagements, the destruction of the first Iraqi tanks did not result in a mass surrender. The Iraqis suffered massive losses and lost dozens of tanks and vehicles, while American casualties were comparatively low, with a single Bradley knocked out. Coalition forces pressed another ten kilometers into Iraqi territory, and captured their objective within three hours. They took 500 prisoners and inflicted heavy losses, decimating the Iraqi 26th Infantry Division. An American soldier was killed by an Iraqi land mine, another five by friendly fire, and thirty wounded during the battle. American forces breached Iraqi defenses and decimated an entire Iraqi infantry division. Meanwhile, British forces attacked the Iraqi Medina Division and a major Republican Guard logistics base. In nearly two days of some of the war's most intense fighting, the British destroyed 40 enemy tanks and captured a division commander.

Meanwhile, American forces attacked the village of Al Busayyah, meeting fierce resistance. They suffered no casualties, but destroyed a considerable amount of military hardware and took prisoners.

On 25 February 1991, Iraqi forces fired a scud missile at an American barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The missile attack killed 28 American military personnel.

The Coalition advance was much swifter than U.S. generals had expected. On 26 February, Iraqi troops began retreating from Kuwait, after they had set its oil fields on fire (737 oil wells were set on fire). A long convoy of retreating Iraqi troops formed along the main Iraq-Kuwait highway. Although they were retreating, this convoy was bombed so extensively by Coalition air forces that it came to be known as the Highway of Death. Hundreds of Iraqi troops were killed. Forces from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France continued to pursue retreating Iraqi forces over the border and back into Iraq, eventually moving to within 150 miles (240 km) of Baghdad before withdrawing from the Iraqi border.

One hundred hours after the ground campaign started, on 28 February, President Bush declared a ceasefire, and he also declared that Kuwait had been liberated.

Battle of Khafji

On 29 January Iraqi forces attacked and occupied the lightly defended Saudi city of Khafji with tanks and infantry. The Battle of Khafji ended two days later when the Iraqis were driven back by the Saudi Arabian National Guard and the United States Marine Corps, supported by Qatari forces. The allied forces provided close air support and used extensive artillery fire.

Casualties were heavy on both sides, although Iraqi forces sustained substantially more dead and captured than the allied forces. Eleven Americans were killed in two separate friendly fire incidents, an additional 14 U.S. airmen were killed when an American AC-130 gunship was shot down by an Iraqi surface-to-air missile (SAM), and two American soldiers were captured during the battle. Saudi and Qatari forces had a total of 18 dead. Iraqi forces in Khafji had 60–300 dead and 400 captured.

Khafji was a strategically important city immediately after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The Iraqi reluctance to commit several armored divisions to the occupation, and its subsequent use of Khafji as a launching pad into the initially lightly defended east of Saudi Arabia is considered by many academics a grave strategic error. Not only would Iraq have secured a majority of Middle Eastern oil supplies, but it would have found itself better able to threaten the subsequent U.S. deployment along superior defensive lines.

The Battle of Khafji was the first major ground engagement of the Gulf War. It took place in and around the Saudi Arabian city of Khafji, from 29 January to 1 February 1991 and marked the culmination of the Coalition's air campaign over Kuwait and Iraq, which had begun on 17 January 1991.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who had already tried and failed to draw Coalition troops into costly ground engagements by shelling Saudi positions and oil storage tanks and firing Scud surface-to-surface missiles at Israel, ordered the invasion of Saudi Arabia from southern Kuwait. He ordered the 1st and 5th Mechanized Divisions and 3rd Armored Division to conduct a multi-pronged invasion toward Khafji, engaging American, Saudi and Qatari forces along the coastline.

These three divisions, which had been heavily damaged by Coalition aircraft in the preceding days, attacked on 29 January. Most of their attacks were fought off by U.S. Marines as well as U.S. Army Rangers and Coalition aircraft, but one of the Iraqi columns occupied Khafji on the night of 29–30 January. Between 30 January and 1 February, two Saudi Arabian National Guard battalions and two Qatari tank companies attempted to retake control of the city, aided by Coalition aircraft and American artillery. By 1 February, the city had been recaptured at the cost of 43 Coalition soldiers dead and 52 wounded. The Iraqi Army lost between 60 and 300 dead, while an estimated 400 were captured as prisoners of war.

The battle serves as a modern demonstration that air power can halt and defeat a major ground operation. It was also a major test of the Saudi and Qatari armies. Although the capture of Khafji was a propaganda victory for Saddam Hussein's regime, its subsequent recapture by Saudi and Qatari ground forces provided a major morale boost for the Coalition.


On August 2, 1990, the Iraqi Army invaded and occupied the neighboring state of Kuwait. The invasion, which followed the inconclusive Iran–Iraq War and three decades of political conflict with Kuwait, offered Saddam Hussein the ability to distract political dissent at home and add Kuwait's oil resources to Iraq's own, a boon in a time of declining petroleum prices.

In response, the United Nations began to pass a series of resolutions demanding the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Afraid that Saudi Arabia would be invaded next, the Saudi government requested immediate military aid. As a result, the United States began marshalling forces from a variety of nations, styled the Coalition, on the Arabian peninsula. Initially, Saddam Hussein attempted to deter Coalition military action by threatening Kuwait's and Iraq's petroleum production and export. In December 1990, Iraq experimented with the use of explosives to destroy wellheads in the area of the Ahmadi loading complex, developing their capability to destroy Kuwait's petroleum infrastructure on a large scale. On 16 January, Iraqi artillery destroyed an oil storage tank in Al-Khafji, Saudi Arabia and on 19 January the pumps at the Ahmadi loading complex were opened, pouring crude oil into the Persian Gulf. The oil flowed into the sea at a rate of 200,000 barrels a day, becoming one of the worst ecological disasters to that date.

Despite these Iraqi threats, the Coalition launched a 38-day aerial campaign on 17 January 1991. Flying an estimated 2,000 sorties a day, Coalition aircraft rapidly crippled the Iraqi air defense systems and all but destroyed the Iraqi Air Force, whose daily sortie rate plummeted from a prewar level of an estimated 200 per day to almost none by 17 January. On the third day of the campaign, many Iraqi pilots fled across the Iranian border in their aircraft rather than be destroyed. The air campaign also targeted command-and-control sites, bridges, railroads, and petroleum storage facilities.

Saddam Hussein, who is believed to have said, "The air force has never decided a war," nevertheless worried that the air campaign would erode Iraq's national morale. The Iraqi leader also believed that the United States would not be willing to lose many troops in action, and therefore sought to draw Coalition ground troops into a decisive battle. In an attempt to provoke a ground battle, he directed Iraqi forces to launch Scud missiles against Israel, while continuing to threaten the destruction of oilfields in Kuwait. These efforts were unsuccessful in provoking a large ground battle, so Saddam Hussein decided to launch a limited offensive into Saudi Arabia with the aim of inflicting heavy losses on the Coalition armies.

As the air campaign continued, the Coalition's expectations of an Iraqi offensive decreased. As a result, the United States redeployed the XVIII Airborne Corps and the VII Corps 480 kilometers (300 mi) to the west. The Coalition's leadership believed that should an Iraqi force go on the offensive, it would be launched from the al-Wafra oil fields, in Southern Kuwait.

Order of battle

The Iraqi Army had between 350,000 and 500,000 soldiers in theater, organized into 51 divisions, including eight Republican Guard divisions. Republican Guard units normally received the newest equipment; for example, most of the estimated 1,000 T-72 tanks in the Iraqi Army on the eve of the war were in Republican Guard divisions. The Iraqi Army in the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations (KTO) also included nine heavy divisions, composed mostly of professional soldiers, but with weapons of a generally lesser grade than those issued to the Republican Guard.

Most non-Republican Guard armored units had older tank designs, mainly the T-55 or its Chinese equivalents, the Type 59 and Type 69. The remaining 34 divisions were composed of poorly trained conscripts. These divisions were deployed to channel the Coalition's forces through a number of break points along the front, allowing the Iraqi Army's heavy divisions and the Republican Guard units to isolate them and counterattack. However, the Iraqis left their western flank open, failing to account for tactics made possible by the Global Positioning System and other new technologies.

In Saudi Arabia, the Coalition originally deployed over 200,000 soldiers, 750 aircraft and 1,200 tanks. This quickly grew to 3,600 tanks and over 600,000 personnel, of whom over 500,000 were from the United States.

Iraqi forces in Battle of Khafji

Earmarked for the offensive into Saudi Arabia was the Iraqi Third Corps, the 1st Mechanized Division from Fourth Corps and a number of commando units. Third Corps, commanded by Major General Salah Aboud Mahmoud (who would also command the overall offensive), had 3rd Armored Division and 5th Mechanized Division, as well as a number of infantry divisions. Fourth Corps' commander was Major General Yaiyd Khalel Zaki. The 3rd Armored Division had a number of T-72 tanks, the only non-Republican Guard force to have them, while the other armored battalions had T-62s and T-55s,[31] a few of which had an Iraqi appliqué armor similar to the Soviet bulging armor also known as "brow" laminate armor or BDD.

During the battle of Khafji, these upgraded T-55s survived impacts from Milan anti-tank missiles. These divisions also had armored personnel vehicles such as the BMP-1, scout vehicles such as the BRDM-2, and several types of artillery. Also deployed along this portion of the front, though not chosen to participate in the invasion, were five infantry divisions that were under orders to remain in their defensive positions along the border.

U.S. Marine Corps reconnaissance estimated that the Iraqi Army had amassed around 60,000 troops across the border, near the Kuwaiti town of Wafra, in as many as 5 or 6 divisions. Infantry divisions normally consisted of three brigades with an attached commando unit, although some infantry divisions could have up to eight brigades–however most infantry divisions along the border were understrength, primarily due to desertion.

Armored and mechanized divisions normally made use of three brigades, with each brigade having up to four combat battalions; depending on the division type, these were generally a three to one mix, with either three mechanized battalions and one armored battalion, or vice versa. Given the size of the forces deployed across the border, it is thought that the Iraqi Army planned to continue the offensive, after the successful capture of Al-Khafji, in order to seize the valuable oil fields at Damman.

The attack would consist of a four-prong offensive. The 1st Mechanized Division would pass through the 7th and 14th Infantry Divisions to protect the flank of the 3rd Armored Division, which would provide a blocking force west of Al-Khafji while the 5th Mechanized Division took the town. The 1st Mechanized and 3rd Armored divisions would then retire to Kuwait, while the 5th Mechanized Division would wait until the Coalition launched a counteroffensive. The principal objectives were to inflict heavy casualties on the attacking Coalition soldiers and take prisoners of war, whom Saddam Hussein theorized would be an excellent bargaining tool with the Coalition.

As the units moved to the Saudi border, many were attacked by Coalition aircraft. Around the Al-Wafrah forest, about 1,000 Iraqi armored fighting vehicles were attacked by Harrier aircraft with Rockeye cluster bombs. Another Iraqi convoy of armored vehicles was hit by A-10s, which destroyed the first and last vehicles, before systematically attacking the stranded remainder. Such air raids prevented the majority of the Iraqi troops deployed for the offensive from taking part in it.

Iraqi armored fighting vehicles at Khafji

T-72 T-55 T-62 BMP-1
Weight 37.6 t (41.5 short tons) 36 t (39.7 tons) 40 t (44 tons) 13.9 t (15.3 tons)
Gun 125 mm 2A46D smoothbore (4.92 inches) 100 mm D-10T2S rifled (3.94 in) 115 mm U-5T smoothbore (4.53 in) 73 mm 2A2B Grom Low-pressure gun (2.9 in)
Ammunition 44 rounds 43 rounds 40 rounds 40 rounds
Road range 342.8 km (300 miles) 500 km (310.7 mi) 300–450 km (186–279 mi) 500 km (310.7 mi)
Engine output 780 PS (573.7 kW) 580 PS (426.6 kW) 580 PS (426.6 kW) 300 PS (220.6 kW)
Maximum speed 60 km/h (37.3 mph) 50 km/h (30 mph) 50 km/h (30 mph) 40 km/h (24.9 mph)

Coalition forces

During the buildup of forces, the United States had built observation posts along the Kuwaiti and Iraqi border to gather intelligence on Iraqi forces. These were manned by United States Navy SEALs, Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance and Army Special Forces personnel. Observation post 8 was farthest to the east, on the coast, and another seven observation posts were positioned each 20 km (12 mi) until the end of the "heel", the geographic panhandle of southernmost Kuwait. Observation posts 8 and 7 overlooked the coastal highway that ran to Al-Khafji, considered the most likely invasion route of the city. 1st Marine Division had three companies positioned at observation posts 4, 5, and 6 (Task Force Shepard), while the 2nd Marine Division's 2nd Light Armored Infantry Battalion set up a screen between observation post 1 and the Al-Wafrah oil fields.

The Saudis gave responsibility for the defense of Al-Khafji to the 2nd Saudi Arabian National Guard Brigade and a Qatari armored battalion, attached to Task Force Abu Bakr. The 5th Battalion of the 2nd Saudi Arabian National Guard Brigade set up a screen north and west of Al-Khafji, under observation post 7. At the time, a Saudi Arabian National Guard Brigade could have up to four motorized battalions, each with three line companies. The brigade had a nominal strength of an estimated 5,000 soldiers. The Saudis also deployed the Tariq Task Force, composed of Saudi Arabian Marines and a battalion of Moroccan infantry. Two further task forces, Othman and Omar Task Forces, consisted of two Mechanized Ministry of Defense and Aviation Brigades, providing screens about 3 km (1.9 mi) south of the border. The country's main defenses were placed 20 km (12 mi) south of the screen.

The majority of the Arab contingent was led by General Khaled bin Sultan. The forces around Al-Khafji were organized into the Joint Forces Command-East, while Joint Forces Command-North defended the border between observation post 1 and the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border.

Coalition armored fighting vehicles at Khafji

AMX-30 V-150 LAV-25
Weight 36 t (39.7 short tons) 10 t (11.02 tons) 16.3 t (18 tons)
Gun 105 mm modele F1 rifled (4.13 inches) 90 mm Cockerill rifled (3.54 i) 25 mm autocannon (0.98 in)
Ammunition 50 rounds 39 rounds 420 rounds
Road range 600 km (370 mi) 643 km (400 mi) 660 km (410 mi)
Engine output 780 PS (573.7 kW) 202 PS (148.6 kW) 350 PS (257.4 kW)
Maximum speed 60 km/h (37.3 mph) 88 km/h (54.7 mph) 99 km/h (61.5 mph)


On 27 January 1991, President Saddam Hussein met with the two Iraqi army corps commanders who would lead the operation in Basra, and Major General Salah Mahmoud told him that Khafji would be his by 30 January. During his return trip to Baghdad, Saddam Hussein's convoy was attacked by Coalition aircraft; the Iraqi leader escaped unscathed.

Throughout 28 January, the Coalition received a number of warnings suggesting an impending Iraqi offensive. The Coalition was flying two brand-new E-8A Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) aircraft, which picked up the deployment and movement of Iraqi forces to the area opposite of Al-Khafji. Observation posts 2, 7 and 8 also detected heavy Iraqi reconnoitering along the border, and their small teams of air-naval gunfire liaison Marines called in air and artillery strikes throughout the day. Lieutenant Colonel Richard Barry, commander of the forward headquarters of the 1st Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Intelligence Group, sent warnings about an impending attack to Central Command. CentCom leaders were too preoccupied with the air campaign to heed them however, and so the Iraqi operation came as a surprise.

Beginning of Iraqi offensive: 29 January

The Iraqi offensive began on the night of 29 January, when approximately 2,000 soldiers in several hundred armored fighting vehicles moved south. The Gulf War's first ground engagement was near observation post 4, built on the Al-Zabr police building. Elements of the Iraqi 6th Armored Brigade, ordered to take the heights above Al-Zabr, engaged Coalition units at Al-Zabr. At 20:00 hours, U.S. Marines at the observation post, who had noticed large groups of armored vehicles through their night vision devices, attempted to talk to battalion headquarters but received no response. Contact was not established until 20:30 hours, which prompted Task Force Shepard to respond to the threat. Coalition soldiers at observation post 4 opened fire on the Iraqi column, but this largely ineffective fire drew a heavy Iraqi response which forced the company to retire south, by order of its commanding officer.

To cover the withdrawal, the company's platoon of LAV-25s and LAV-ATs (anti-tank variants) moved to engage the Iraqi force. One of the anti-tank vehicles opened fire, after receiving permission, at what it believed was an Iraqi tank. Instead, the missile destroyed a friendly LAV-AT a few hundred meters in front of it. Despite this loss, the platoon continued forward and soon opened fire on the Iraqi tanks with the LAV-25's autocannons. The fire could not penetrate the tanks' armor, but did disorient their tank commanders.

Soon thereafter, a number of A-10 ground-attack aircraft arrived but found it difficult to pinpoint enemy targets and began dropping flares to illuminate the zone. One of these flares landed on a friendly vehicle, and although the vehicle radioed in its position, it was hit by an AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile that killed the entire crew except for the driver. Following the incident, the company was withdrawn and the remaining vehicles reorganized into another nearby company. With observation post 4 cleared, the Iraqi 6th Armored Brigade withdrew over the border to Al-Wafrah under heavy fire from Coalition aircraft. Coalition forces had lost 11 troops to friendly fire and none to enemy action.

While the events at observation post 4 were unfolding, the Iraqi 5th Mechanized Division crossed the Saudi border near observation post 1. A Company of the 2nd Light Infantry Armored Battalion, which was screening the Iraqi unit, reported a column of 60–100 BMPs. The column was engaged by Coalition A-10s and Harrier jump jets. This was then followed by another column with an estimated 29 tanks. One of the column's T-62 tanks was engaged by an anti-tank missile and destroyed. Coalition air support, provided by A-10s and F-16s, engaged the Iraqi drive through observation post 1 and ultimately repulsed the attack back over the Iraqi border. Aircraft continued to engage the columns throughout the night, until the next morning. Another column of Iraqi tanks, approaching observation post 2, were engaged by aircraft and also repulsed that night.

An additional Iraqi column crossed the Saudi border to the East, although still along the coast, towards the city of Khafji. These Iraqi tanks were screened by the 5th Mechanized Battalion of the 2nd Saudi Arabian National Guard Brigade. This battalion withdrew when it came under heavy fire, as it had been ordered to not engage the Iraqi column. Elements of the 8th and 10th Saudi Arabian National Guard Brigades also conducted similar screening operations. Due to the order to not engage, the road to Al-Khafji was left open. At one point, Iraqi T-55s of another column rolled up to the Saudi border, signaling that they intended to surrender. As they were approached by Saudi Arabian troops, they reversed their turrets and opened fire. This prompted air support from a nearby AC-130, destroying 13 vehicles.

Nevertheless, the Iraqi advance towards Al-Khafji continued on this sector, despite repeated attacks from an AC-130. Attempts by the Saudi commanders to call in additional air strikes on the advancing Iraqi column failed when the requested heavy air support never arrived. Al-Khafji was occupied by approximately 00:30 on 30 January, trapping two six-man reconnaissance teams from the 1st Marine Division in the city. The teams occupied two apartment buildings in the southern sector of the city and called artillery fire on their position to persuade the Iraqis to call off a search of the area. Throughout the night, Coalition air support composed of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft continued to engage Iraqi tanks and artillery.

Initial response: 30 January

Distressed by the occupation of Khafji, Saudi commander General Khaled bin Sultan appealed to American General Norman Schwarzkopf for an immediate air campaign against Iraqi forces in and around the city. However this was turned down, and it was instead decided that the city would be retaken by Arab forces. The task fell to the 2nd Saudi Arabian National Guard Brigade's 7th Battalion, composed of Saudi infantry and two Qatari tank companies attached to the task force. These were supported by U.S. Army Special Forces and Marine Reconnaissance personnel.

The force was put under the command of Saudi Lieutenant Colonel Matar, who moved out by 17:00 hours. The force met up with elements of the U.S. 3rd Marine Regiment, south of Khafji, and were ordered to directly attack the city. The engagement of that night was to be the first battle the Qatari Army had seen in its entire history. A platoon of Iraqi T-55s attacked a Qatari tank company south of the city, leading to the destruction of three T-55s by Qatari AMX-30s, and the capture of a fourth Iraqi tank. Lacking any coordinated artillery support, artillery fire was provided by the 11th Marine Regiment.

An initial attack on the city was called off after the Iraqi occupants opened up a heavy fire, prompting the Saudis to reinforce the 7th Battalion with two more companies from adjacent Saudi units. The attempt to retake the city had been preceded by a 15-minute preparatory fire from U.S. Marine artillery. However Iraqi fire did manage to destroy one Saudi V-150 armored personnel carrier.

Meanwhile, 2nd Saudi Arabian National Guard Brigade's 5th Battalion moved north of Al-Khafji to block Iraqi reinforcements attempting to reach the city. This unit was further bolstered by the 8th Ministry of Defense and Aviation Brigade, and heavily aided by Coalition air support. Although fear of friendly fire forced the 8th Ministry of Defense and Aviation Brigade to pull back the following morning, Coalition aircraft successfully hindered Iraqi attempts to move more soldiers down to Al-Khafji and caused large numbers of Iraqi troops to surrender to Saudi forces.

That night, two U.S. Army heavy equipment transporters entered the city of Al-Khafji, apparently lost, and were fired upon by Iraqi troops. Although one truck managed to turn around and escape, the two drivers of the second truck were wounded and captured. This led to a rescue mission organized by 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Marine Regiment, which sent a force of 30 men to extract the two wounded drivers. Although encountering no major opposition, they did not find the two drivers who had, by this time, been taken prisoner. The Marines did find a burnt out Qatari AMX-30, with its dead crew. That same night, a U.S. Air Force AC-130 was shot down by an Iraqi surface to air missile (SAM), killing the aircraft's crew of 14.

The interdiction on the part of Coalition aircraft and Saudi and Qatari ground forces was having an effect on the occupying Iraqi troops. Referring to Saddam Hussein's naming of the ground engagement as the "mother of all battles", Iraqi General Salah radioed in a request to withdraw, stating, "The mother was killing her children." Since the beginning of the battle, Coalition aircraft had flown at least 350 sorties against Iraqi units in the area and on the night of 30–31 January, Coalition air support also began to attack units of the Iraqi Third Corps assembled on the Saudi border.

Recapture of Khafji: 31 January–1 February

On 31 January, the effort to retake the city began anew. The attack was launched at 08:30 hours, and was met by inaccurate Iraqi fire which knocked-out two Saudi V-150 wheeled vehicles. The 8th battalion of the Saudi brigade was ordered to deploy to the city by 10:00 hours, while 5th Battalion to the north engaged another column of Iraqi tanks attempting to reach the city. The latter engagement led to the destruction of around 13 Iraqi tanks and armored personnel carriers, and the capture of 6 more vehicles and 116 Iraqi soldiers, costing the Saudi battalion two dead and two wounded. The 8th Battalion engaged the city from the northeast, linking up with 7th Battalion. These units cleared the southern portion of the city, until 7th Battalion withdrew south to rest and rearm at 18:30 hours, while the 8th remained in Al-Khafji.

The 8th continued clearing buildings and by the time the 7th had withdrawn to the south, the Saudis had lost approximately 18 dead and 50 wounded, as well as seven V-150 vehicles. Coalition aircraft continued to provide heavy support throughout the day and night. A veteran of the Iran-Iraq War later mentioned that Coalition airpower "imposed more damage on his brigade in half an hour than it had sustained in eight years of fighting against the Iranians." During the battle, an Iraqi amphibious force was sent to land on the coast and move into Khafji. As the boats made their way through the Persian Gulf towards Khafji, American and British aircraft caught the Iraqi boats in the open and largely destroyed the Iraqi amphibious force.

The Saudi and Qatari units renewed operations the following day. Two Iraqi companies, with about 20 armored vehicles, remained in the city and had not attempted to break out during the night. While the Saudi 8th Battalion continued operations in the southern portion of the city, the 7th Battalion began to clear the northern sector of the city. Iraqi resistance was sporadic and most Iraqi soldiers surrendered on sight; as a result, the city was recaptured on 1 February 1991.

Battle of Khafji Aftermath

During the battle, Coalition forces lost 43 dead and 52 wounded. This included 25 Americans killed, 11 of them to friendly fire, and two wounded; another two soldiers were captured in Al-Khafji. The 14 American soldiers killed by enemy action were Air Force crewmen killed when their AC-130 plane was shot down by an Iraqi SAM. Saudi and Qatari casualties amounted to 18 killed and 50 wounded. Two Qatari AMX-30s main battle tanks and between seven and ten lightly armored Saudi V-150s were knocked-out. Iraq listed its casualties as 71 dead, 148 wounded and 702 missing. U.S. sources present at the battle claim that 300 Iraqis lost their lives, and at least 90 vehicles were destroyed. Another source suggests that 60 Iraqi soldiers were killed and at least 400 taken prisoner, while no less than 80 armored vehicles were knocked-out; however these casualties are attributed to both the fighting inside and directly north of Khafji. Whatever the exact casualties, the majority of three heavy Iraqi divisions had been destroyed.

The Iraqi capture of Al-Khafji was a major propaganda victory for Iraq: on 30 January the Iraqi radio claimed that they had "expelled Americans from the Arab territory". For many in the Arab world, the battle of Khafji was seen as an Iraqi victory, and Hussein made every possible effort to turn the battle into a political victory. On the other side, confidence within the United States Armed Forces in the abilities of the Saudi and Qatari armies increased as the battle progressed. After Khafji, the Coalition's leadership began to sense that the Iraqi Army was a "hollow force" and it provided them with an impression of the degree of resistance they would face during the Coalition's ground offensive that would begin later that year. The battle was also a major propaganda victory for Saudi Arabia, who had successfully defended its territory.

Despite the success of the engagements between 29 January and 1 February, the Coalition did not launch its main offensive into Kuwait and Iraq until the night of 24–25 February. The invasion of Iraq was completed about 48 hours later. The Battle of Khafji served as a modern example of the ability of overwhelming air power to stop a major offensive decisively. It offered the Coalition an indication of the manner in which Operation Desert Storm would be fought, but also hinted at future friendly-fire casualties which accounted for nearly half of the American dead.

Battle of Khafji Video: