From the "Saudi Spearhead"
Issue 6 - April 15, 1991
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OPINION by Spearhead Staff Editors

The vehicles and bunkers destroyed were ones that were not, perhaps could not have been, discovered and destroyed by air forces alone.

It's a phrase repeated so often one would almost believe it's true: "Air power won the Gulf War."

Like most myths, the statement contains an element of truth. The air phase of Desert Storm was very effective. It reached targets far beyond the reach of ground forces, destroying weapons plants, vital bridges, nuclear facilities, enemy aircraft and the fields from which they operate.

It subjected Iraqi troops to constant harrassment, demoralizing them by robbing them of sleep and inflicting doubts upon their leadership, their supply system, and their own chances of surviving the war. It destroyed vital forward equipment and potential of enemy formations.

Its effect on our own troops was nearly as great in the opposite direction. The unquestioned air supremacy of American and allied forces assured us our camps would not be strafed and bombed, that we could drive in confidence along the supply routes without keeping a wary eye on the sky above. How many soldiers watched the A-10's and F-15's cruise northward in the dark morning during stand-to, cheered that every object of their wrath would be one more enemy we would not face, whispering "go get'em!" under our breath?

But the stubborn fact remains that the air war, for all its effectiveness, did not force the retreat of a single Iraqi unit. Forty days after Desert Storm began, Kuwait remained under an agonizing oppression that was growing worse, not better. Air power was a tremendous help in fighting this war. But it did not, and it could not, win it.

That duty, that honor, fell to the Army and Marine units who moved north into Kuwait, the Airborne and Airmobile forces of 18th Corps who secured the western flank, and to the 7th Corps units, with the 3rd Armored Division again as the Spearhead, who drove the stake into the heart of an Iraqi Army sucking the lifeblood from the Kuwaiti people.

Air forces cannot take and hold ground. That much is well understood. But there is more to the myth of this war than that simple statement A belief lingers among some that all ground forces did was walk into positions already abandoned by the Iraqi Army and place the flag. Spearhead warriors know better.

When members of the Division's 3/5 Cavalry encountered their first units of the Tawakalna Division, the Iraqis were not running. They were firing. Three T-62's patrolled the Tawakalna perimeter, fully fueled, armed and moving -- not hiding in a berm, cowering from the Air Force. Behind them lay an Iraqi battalion, which engaged the cavalrymen in a fierce firefight The battalion drew supply from several bunkers in the area, invisible from the air and untouched by the bombing campaign. Only from close range, with infared sights, could the soldiers of the 3/5 detect and destroy the bunkers.

The pattern would repeat itself many times in the next few days. Maneuver, shock, and firepower, the classic elements of an armoured campaign, destroyed the Iraqi formations and forced them from Kuwait. Spearhead crewmen came upon Iraqi tanks that had their turrets and defenses oriented to the southeast while the 3rd AD swept in from the northwest. That occurred because Spearhead armor moved faster and farther than the Iraqis thought they could -- not because the bombing campaign forced the Iraqis to face south.

Massive, hours-long firefights ended with the complete destruction of Iraqi formations against the loss of not a single Spearhead vehicle. Aircraft helped in many of these engagements. But the balance was tipped because well-trained, courageous Spearhead crews hit and killed what they shot at, often at ranges that exceeded the design limit of the equipment.

At the end of the Division's 97-hour campaign, nearly one thousand Iraqi vehicles lay wrecked. When added to the totals racked up by fellow 7th Corps units, it was clear that the ground campaign had destroyed more Iraqi tanks and armored personnel carriers in four days than the air war had in 40. But even those impressive numbers don't reveal the real truth. The vehicles and bunkers destroyed were ones that were not, perhaps could not have been, discovered and destroyed by air forces alone.

Give credit where credit is due. Air power is an important, even essential element of waging war. Generating a ground offensive in the face of strong air opposition is nearly impossible. In the war for Kuwait, only the air forces had the power to tip the strategic balance so that the war would be fought on the coalition's terms.

But only the ground forces had the ability to win it.


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