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Kuwaiti Officer Marks 1990 Invasion Anniversary With Thanks, Resolve

American Forces Press Service

KUWAIT CITY, Aug. 2, 2007 – Kuwaiti air force Col. Sulaiman M. al-Otaibi remembers all too well the “dark day” his country faced 17 years ago today, when 100,000 Iraqi troops stormed across the border here, leaving death and destruction in their wake.

Memories of Aug. 2, 1990, are still fresh for him and his fellow Kuwaitis as they recall four of Saddam Hussein’s elite Republican Guard divisions and Iraqi army special forces units pushing into Kuwait City.

They quickly overran Kuwait’s outnumbered forces, attacked the royal residence, Dasman Palace, and began a brutal six-month occupation. Six days later, Saddam announced the merger of Iraq and Kuwait.

Otaibi and his family weathered the occupation as he, a lieutenant colonel at the time running manpower affairs for the Kuwaiti military, struggled to face their oppressors.

The U.N. Security Council quickly passed resolutions calling for a full Iraqi withdrawal and imposing economic sanctions on Iraq. Nearly four months after the initial invasion, a Security Council resolution authorized states cooperating with Kuwait to use “all necessary means” to get Iraq to withdraw.

Today, Otaibi remembers the relief he and his countrymen felt when a 34-nation coalition led by the United States began to take shape.

The United States launched “Operation Desert Shield,” its largest troop deployment since the Vietnam War, led by Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, then commander of U.S. Central Command. Ultimately, the United States would commit 540,000 troops, six aircraft carriers, 4,000 tanks, 1,700 helicopters, 1,800 aircraft and submarines to the operation.

Afghanistan, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, France, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Niger, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Syria and the United Arab Emirates ultimately would join Kuwait and the United States in the coalition.

On Jan. 16, one day after Iraq failed to comply with U.N. resolutions calling for it to withdraw, President George H.W. Bush went on national TV to announce the launch of “Operation Desert Storm.” "Just two hours ago, allied air forces began attacking military targets in Iraq and Kuwait,” he said in a televised address.

“These attacks continue as I speak. Ground forces are not engaged. This conflict started 2 August when the dictator of Iraq invaded a small and helpless neighbor. Kuwait, a member of the Arab League and a member of the United Nations, was crushed, its people brutalized. Five months ago, Saddam Hussein started this cruel war against Kuwait. Tonight, the battle has been joined," Bush said.

Five weeks after the air and missile conflict began, ground troops rolled into Kuwait City on Feb. 27, forcing Iraq to agree to a cease-fire 100 hours later.

On March 6, Bush announced the liberation of Kuwait, and U.S. forces began touching American soil two days later.

Otaibi, now director of administrative affairs for Kuwait’s armed forces headquarters, said he and his fellow Kuwaitis will never forget what the United States and the coalition did for them.

“Americans sacrificed for this country,” he said, recognizing 300 U.S. servicemembers who died in the conflict. “We feel a lot of thanks and appreciation.”

But even with turmoil in Iraq today, Otaibi said, Kuwaitis feel confident that Aug. 2, 1990, will never replay in their country. The Kuwaiti military is far stronger and better organized than in 1990, he said, thanks to help from its allies. “We have a lot of morale and spirit,” he said.

Perhaps more important, he said, are the close ties Kuwait now maintains with the United States and its other allies.

Defense Secretary Robert M Gates visited yesterday with Crown Prince Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, Prime Minister Nasir Muhammad al-Ahmed al-Sabah and Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah to help build on that relationship.

Kuwaitis are particularly proud of the support they’re providing to Operation Iraqi Freedom, Otaibi said.

“We were among the first one there to provide support,” he said. “You guys (the United States) were busy doing the liberation, and we were feeding the people.”

Today, Kuwait continues to serve as a major logistical base for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and deployed troops transit through it as they enter and leave Iraq.

“We’re happy to be able to do our part to support the effort,” Otaibi said. “I don’t believe that the United States could do it without us.”

He said he’s hopeful that his neighboring Iraqis “will get together and solve their problems.” Ultimately, it will be up to them to secure peace in their country, he said.

That peace is critical, not just to Iraq, but to its neighbors in the Gulf, Otaibi said.

“I’m a father,” he said. “I hate to have my children watch TV every night and see bombs explode.”

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