Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait to rectify Iraq’s economic woes following the Iran-Iraq War. The international community, led by the United States, rallied against Iraq’s naked aggression and began a military buildup in Saudi Arabia to dissuade Hussein from invading the kingdom. The buildup also allowed the coalition to launch an invasion to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Hussein refused to negotiate in good faith or withdrawal in the face of international pressure. As a result, American President George H.W. Bush initiated military operations against Iraq. The war proved the most successful in American history as Iraq quickly folded and the U.S. led coalition expelled Hussein from Kuwait.
Saddam Hussein allowed the U.N. imposed deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait expire resulting in the initiation of hostilities. On January 17, 1991, the United States and the allied coalition initiated a full scale bombing campaign against Iraq. The allies flew over 100,000 sorties and destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure and command and control facilities. Iraqi air defenses failed miserably and managed to shoot down just 44 allied planes.
In addition to traditional military targets, warplanes searched for Hussein’s scud missile launchers. The Iraqi dictator fired these missiles at Israel in the hopes of goading the nation into retaliating and widening the war. Additionally, he hoped Israeli entry into the war would shatter the American coalition which included several Muslim countries. Iraq fired 42 into Israel and another 44 at Saudi Arabia. The missiles were wildly inaccurate, but did spread fear. The worst attack struck an American barracks killing 28 and injuring over 100. Despite the constant attacks, Israel remained amazingly patient and did not take Hussein’s bait.
After about 6 weeks of intense bombing, the coalition launched a ground invasion. Hussein’s forces were battered, but refused to budge. Forces under the command of H. Norman Schwarzkopf launched the so-called “Hail Mary” which was essentially a modified version of Hannibal’s strategy at Cannae over 2000 years earlier. This included a thrust into Iraq and around Hussein’s forces in Kuwait. The movement threatened to envelope the Iraqi forces. Additionally, the Americans spread misinformation through the media which confused Hussein. For instance, Iraq expected an amphibious invasion which never came. In the end, The ground war lasted 100 hours. The Iraqi military was literally shell shocked from the air campaign and surrendered at nearly every opportunity. One group actually surrendered to a news crew. With few exceptions, Iraqi forces provided very little resistance.
The Republican Guard proved an exception to the rule. The Americans stepped up the invasion schedule to ensure the guard did not escape. Some of the most intense fighting took place between Iraq’s Republican Guard and American forces. The elite Iraqi unit proved no match and crumbled. Coalition forces liberated Kuwait and Iraqi forces began retreating on February 26. They set Kuwait’s oil fields ablaze creating an environmental disaster and images resembling a scene out of Revelations.
The retreating forces formed a long convoy along the highway connecting Iraq with Kuwait. Coalition forces began a “turkey shoot” and the region became known as “the Highway of Death.” Hundreds of Iraqis died in the retreat. Eventually, the allies ceased hostilities. Colin Powell argued they had to stop the aerial bombardment of retreating troops on humanitarian grounds. He also warned about a potential global backlash if the U.S. is viewed as slaughtering helpless soldiers. As a result, President Bush ordered a ceasefire on February 28 and Saddam Hussein declared victory.
Despite Hussein’s proclamation, The United States led coalition achieved an incredibly swift and total victory over Iraq. The allies expelled Hussein from Kuwait and crippled the dictator’s military. The bombing campaign rattled Iraqi troops leading to their willingness to surrender to news crews. General Schwarzkopf’s “Hail Mary” confused and confounded Hussein and led to an all-out rout.