KUWAIT CITY (AP) — In February 1991, after months of building an international coalition, U.S. forces entered Kuwait to end the Iraqi occupation of its smaller, oil-rich neighbor.
The ground operation to end Iraq’s nearly seven-month occupation lasted only 100 hours, despite fleeing Iraqi forces lighting hundreds of massive blazes at Kuwaiti oil wells.
As Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of the U.S. advance into Kuwait, The Associated Press is making available its story by correspondent Denis D. Gray about the military operation, as well as historic photographs of the conflict.
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WITH U.S. MARINES ADVANCING INTO KUWAIT — U.S. Marines surged into Kuwait through mine-sown defensive barriers Sunday, wrecking an Iraqi division and taking 4,700 prisoners, spokesmen said. Some units reached the outskirts of Kuwait City.
The Marines lost three dead in the first day of fighting, officers said. The 2nd Marine Division reported one killed and eight wounded; the 1st Division two dead and nine wounded. A pilot was missing after his plane crashed.
“I myself am amazed” at the light casualties, said Lt. Col. Jan Huly, 2nd Division spokesman. “We expected it to be a lot more so far.”
Iraqi casualties were not known, but Huly said the front-line Iraqi division the 2nd Marines faced as they broke through the defensive barriers “doesn’t exist anymore.” The size of the Iraqi division was not known. Huly said its commander apparently was captured or surrendered.
The 2nd Marine Division said it took at least 1,500 Iraqis prisoner; the 1st Division reported more than 3,200 Iraqis captured.
The assault, apparently the largest Marine operation since World War II, involved the two divisions based along Kuwait’s southernmost border with Saudi Arabia. The military did not say how many Marines were involved, but a division has 6,000 to 15,000 men.
Wearing full chemical protection outfits and moving behind tanks and plows, the Marines pushed through walls of sand, trenches, barbed wire and minefields as deep as 600 yards.
One officer said some Marines encountered chemical gas, apparently from mines.
The Iraqis have sown an estimated 500,000 mines in southern Kuwait, and some were believed to include chemical agents. But the Iraqi forces appeared to be using only conventional explosives in their artillery shells.
Huly said forward elements of the 2nd Division, including tanks and artillery batteries, were already near Kuwait City and were consolidating their positions.
Lead units of the 1st Division, operating to the west, drove deep into Kuwait late Sunday after breaking through Iraqi lines northwest of the al-Wafra oilfields, according to a pool report.
“Things are going very well,” said Col. John Stennick, chief of staff for the division. “We thought we’d have to fight harder to get this far. The best news is that so few of our people have gotten hurt.”
An expected amphibious assault from Marines in the Persian Gulf had yet to be launched.
The USS Nassau and about 20 other ships in the amphibious task force awaited orders in the northern gulf. Rear Adm. John B. LaPlante, commander of the group, said he did not expect assault orders “in the near term.”
Before sunset Marine units were still pouring through six lanes cut through the breaches. Markers were placed in the desert so that the assault force would not stray into zones sown with mines.
Huly said that Iraqi opposition was “very mild.”
He said the only known 2nd Division Marine death came when an artillery breach either exploded or struck the gunner in the head. He had no details, and there was no information available on the deaths in the 1st Division.
The spokesman ascribed the low allied casualties to superb U.S. equipment and training and poor Iraqi morale.
“We’ve got our act together, he doesn’t. He’s only shooting rounds randomly,” Huly said.
He warned, however, that the Marines would probably face stiffer opposition as they moved deeper into Kuwait, where Saddam Hussein has deployed some of his better troops, including the elite Republican Guard. The Iraqis are said to have manned the front lines largely with conscripts.
“I don’t think we’ve gotten into the real battle yet,” said Huly. “The tough guys are still ahead of us.”
He said entire units, complete with their weapons and other equipment, were surrendering after putting up minimal resistance, and the morale of the prisoners taken so far “is about boot-top level.”
Huly said the POWs were being placed in a temporary compound south of the breach, and attempts were being made to whisk them to rear areas.
“There are so many we can’t talk to them all,” Huly said.
Among the prisoners was an officer believed to be commander of the front-line division overcome by the Marines, Huly said. He did not know if the officer had been captured or surrendered.
As the assault force drove forward, it came under fire from Iraqi artillery and ground troops. Helicopter gunships and allied warplanes swooped in to knock out the Iraqi gunners as they emerged from dug-in positions, Huly said.
Allied aircraft included Harrier jump jets, A-6 attack fighters, A-10 tank killers and Cobra helicopters. He said B-52 bombers, which played a major role in the aerial strikes, were not being used in close support of the ground troops.
Lt. Gen. Walt Boomer, the Marine commander, said the 1st Marine assault began at 4 a.m. Sunday (8 p.m. EST Saturday), the starting time for the allied ground war.
The 2nd Marine started its attack about 1 1/2 hours later, under an unexpected downpour and after a night of allied artillery, rocket and air strikes. The rain later gave way to clear, sunny skies.
Huly said three Marine tanks – each with a crew of four – were damaged or destroyed. One Marine AV-8B Harrier crashed at night and the pilot was missing, Boomer said.
Boomer said the Marines encountered chemical gas that apparently was released by buried mines nine miles north of the Saudi border.
Huly said the troops went into battle wearing full chemical protective gear, which includes a suit, gas masks, boots and gloves. Troops have also been taking anti-nerve gas and anti-anthrax pills for several days.
The way was prepared for the Marine advance on Friday morning when other Marine units slipped into Kuwait on foot through the minefields to establish a safe route for advancing armor.
The Marines preceded their attack with loudspeakers urging Iraqis to surrender.
Smoke continued to pour from the Umm Qadir oilfield in southwest Kuwait, which was allegedly set ablaze earlier in the war by Iraqi forces. But Huly said it posed no problems for the assault force.
“They can see well enough to shoot at us, and we can see well enough to shoot at them,” Huly said.
The spokesman also played down the effects of the rainstorm. Allied warplanes continued to pour in supporting fire under heavy cloud cover.