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Nation Observes Anniversary of Operation Desert Storm

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Operation Desert Storm began 31 years ago — on Jan. 16, 1991 — five months after Iraqi forces invaded and annexed Kuwait.

That operation to oust the Iraqis is also known as the Gulf War; it came about after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein refused to withdraw his forces from Kuwait.

A service member lifts a metal round in front of a wheeled vehicle.
Sabot Round
An ammunition specialist carries a 105 mm armor-piercing, discarding sabot round, to be used in an M1 Abrams tank, during Desert Shield.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Brian Cumper
VIRIN: 181103-D-ZZ999-101
Marines run over sandy terrain near a helicopter.
Imminent Thunder
U.S. Marines assigned to the 2nd Marine Division's Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, move out on a mission after disembarking from a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter during Exercise Imminent Thunder, part of Operation Desert Shield.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. H. H. Deffner
VIRIN: 181103-D-ZZ999-102

In response, the United States and partner nations began a buildup of arms and forces in Saudi Arabia. That phase, leading up to Operation Desert Storm, was known as Operation Desert Shield.

Early on Jan. 16, 1991, the air campaign began with U.S. Army and Air Force helicopters knocking out Iraqi antiaircraft facilities and Hellfire missiles destroying Iraqi radar sites.

Three airborne fighter jets
Oil Field Flames
F-16A Fighting Falcon, F-15C Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle fighter aircraft fly over burning oil fields in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.
Photo By: Air Force photo
VIRIN: 020926-O-9999G-908C

Then, fixed-wing aircraft from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and coalition forces, augmented by cruise missiles, pounded Iraqi positions and supply lines for the next 42 days.

Iraqi forces were not idle. On Jan. 29, 1991, they attacked and occupied the city of Khafji, Saudi Arabia. Two days later, they were driven out of Saudi Arabia by U.S. Marines, Saudi and Qatari forces.

On Feb. 24, 1991, the ground war began with U.S. and allied forces penetrating deep into Kuwait and Iraq before the end of the day. The advance was so swift that masses of Iraqi troops began surrendering within hours.

Troops stand in formation.
In Formation
Coalition forces from Egypt, Syria, Oman, France and Kuwait stand in formation during Operation Desert Storm.
Photo By: Navy photo
VIRIN: 910228-O-D0439-002

By Feb. 28, 1991, U.S. and allied ground forces in Iraq and Kuwait decisively defeated a battle-hardened army — the fourth largest in the world — and liberated Kuwait.

During air and ground operations, U.S. and allied forces destroyed over 3,000 tanks, 1,400 armored personnel carriers, 2,200 artillery pieces, and countless other vehicles. Ninety-six service members were killed in action; an estimated 30,000 Iraqi troops were killed.

The war illustrated the importance of the 35 allies and partners that comprised the coalition to liberate Kuwait, which included several Arab nations.

Soldiers pose for a photo.
Captured Tank
A group of U.S. soldiers of the 41st Infantry Regiment pose for a photo with a captured Iraqi tank, Feb. 28, 1991.
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 910228-O-D0439-001A

The war also included some notable firsts:

  • It was the first war in which TV news broadcasts were aired live from the frontlines.
  • It featured the largest tank battle in U.S. history.
  • The Patriot missile system was used in combat for the first time; it was used to intercept Iraqi Scud missiles.
  • It was the first time GPS and precision-guided munitions were used on a massive scale.

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