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