The start of Operation Desert Storm and the First Gulf War

Operation Desert Storm

On the 17th January 1991, the combat phase of the Gulf War began as Operation Desert Storm was launched to destroy Iraq’s military and civilian infrastructure through an enormous aerial bombing campaign. Over 2,250 coalition aircraft flew in excess of 1,000 sorties a day for five weeks, after which the ground campaign to force Iraqi troops from Kuwait began.

The trigger for the Gulf War was Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on the 2nd August, 1990. Driven by a desire to seize Kuwait’s vast oil reserves and relieve Iraq of crippling debts accrued during the Iran-Iraq War, the invasion was completed within just three days. International condemnation of Iraq was immediate and far-reaching.  The UN began by imposing complete economic sanctions, but on the 29th November 1990 gave Iraq an ultimatum: withdraw from Kuwait by the 15th January 1991 or face military force. In preparation, US Secretary of State James Baker secured support from 34 separate countries for a multi-national coalition force.

Meanwhile over 500,000 troops were sent to defend Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield, in case Iraq chose to attack. However, even as the UN’s deadline approached Saddam refused to withdraw from Kuwait. Consequently Operation Desert Storm began shortly after midnight on the 17th January. Just a few hours later, Saddam Hussein appeared on state radio saying that “The great duel, the mother of all battles has begun. The dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins.” He couldn’t have been more wrong. Following five weeks of aerial bombardment, the Coalition’s ground assault forced the Iraqi troops from Kuwait in just four days.

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