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Bush Orders Cease-Fire

By Rick Atkinson and Steve Coll
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 28, 1991; Page A01

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President Bush last night ordered a cease-fire in the Persian Gulf War, declaring the liberation of Kuwait and the defeat of the Iraqi army.

The order, effective at midnight Washington time, brought at least a temporary halt to allied attacks that began 43 days ago and culminated this week in a swift and bloody allied rout of Iraq's army of occupation.

Bush said the cease-fire is contingent on an end to Iraqi firing and Scud missile attacks, as well as several other conditions including the immediate release of allied military prisoners and Kuwaiti civilian hostages, Baghdad's compliance with all U.N. resolutions and Iraqi assistance in locating land and sea mines.

"Kuwait is liberated. Iraq's army is defeated. Our military objectives are met," the president declared in a brief address from the Oval Office at 9 p.m.

Bush invited Iraqi military commanders to meet with coalition commanders in the next 48 hours "to arrange for military aspects" of the cease-fire. He also said that Secretary of State James A. Baker III would travel to the Middle East next week to work on long-term security arrangements.

"Seven months ago, America and the world drew a line in the sand," the president said, alluding to his bold language three days after Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion. "We declared that the aggression against Kuwait would not stand, and tonight America and the world have kept their word. This is not a time of euphoria, certainly not a time to gloat, but it is a time of pride."

The president's declaration came after U.S. and British armored forces, in the largest tank battle since World War II, crushed most of eight Republican Guard divisions in northwest Kuwait and southeast Iraq, completing the virtual destruction of the half-million-man Iraqi army of occupation.

A triumphant and visibly elated Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf provided reporters in Saudi Arabia with a strategic overview of his war plan for Operation Desert Storm and said the allies had destroyed or captured at least 3,700 Iraqi tanks of 4,230 in the Kuwaiti theater when the war started, as well as 2,140 of 3,110 artillery pieces. Allied casualties remained "almost miraculous" -- with 79 Americans reported killed in six weeks of fighting -- but the Iraqis suffered "a very, very large number of dead," Schwarzkopf said, without offering an estimate.

Heaps of Iraqi corpses are being buried in mass graves across the desert, Pentagon officials added yesterday. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the United States, said Saudi military officers estimated Iraqi casualties at 85,000 to 100,000 dead and wounded. "Well over 50,000" Iraqis had been taken prisoner, Schwarzkopf added, and a senior Pentagon official said last night that another 35,000 had been captured by the U.S. Army on the northern battlefield.

"There's not enough left at all for {Iraq} to be . . . an offensive regional threat," Schwarzkopf declared. "Most of the army that is left north of the Tigris-Euphrates valley is . . . not an armor-heavy army, which means it really isn't an offensive army." Farther south, fighting in Kuwait had virtually ceased by the time Bush addressed the nation, with no more than a few final pockets of Iraqi resistance left. "With the help of God, the six months' occupation of a brotherly state has ended," a spokesman for the Joint Arab Forces, Col. Ahmed Robayan, announced in Riyadh last night.

Following a vanguard of Special Forces and Kuwaiti soldiers, other Arab forces entered Kuwait City yesterday morning. The first convoy of U.S. Marines rolled through the city at mid-afternoon past throngs of ecstatic, cheering Kuwaiti citizens. Marine commander Lt. Gen. Walter Boomer, who was tossed a Kuwaiti flag as he rode through the streets atop an amphibious landing vehicle, declared: "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There are some things worth fighting for."

Still unclear was the fate of thousands of Kuwaitis reportedly kidnapped by retreating Iraqi troops. "We have heard that they took up to 40,000," Schwarzkopf announced. "There was a very, very large number of young Kuwaitis -- males -- taken out of that city within the last week or two." Kuwaiti resistance members in Kuwait City yesterday put the number of those taken hostage at 2,000 to 3,000.

Schwarzkopf saved his harshest condemnation for the "unspeakable atrocities that occurred in Kuwait in the last week," adding, "They're not a part of the same human race -- the people that did that -- that the rest of us are." Those still-sketchy reports caused commanders to accelerate a portion of the allied offensive earlier this week, in an effort to liberate Kuwait as quickly as possible, the general added. Iraqi prisoners are being "screened" in a hunt for potential war criminals, Schwarzkopf added.

A senior Pentagon official last night said that "maybe only one and at most two infantry divisions" were left relatively intact among the Republican Guard, with other divisions reduced to as little as two battalions "before they managed to scoot away" from pursuing forces of the U.S. Army's VII Corps and XVIII Airborne Corps.

The heaviest fighting occurred in a 12-mile radius around the northwest corner of Kuwait and a stretch of desert just south of the Euphrates River where a guard division tried to "break out of the battle before we gobbled them up," the official said. Although some of the Iraqi units "fought like hell," the official added, U.S. armored forces and helicopter gunships continued the slaughter began yesterday in what remained a lopsided battle; one Apache helicopter crew, for example, was credited with destroying eight top-of-the-line T-72 tanks yesterday.

As the VII Corps drove across southern Iraq toward Basra yesterday, lashing the last Iraqi fighters before them, more than 8,000 U.S. infantrymen with the 101st Airborne Division consolidated their hold on the main highway in the Euphrates River valley.

Meeting virtually no resistance, thousands of soldiers fanned out to local villages aboard Black Hawk, Cobra and Chinook helicopters, distributing water and attempting to counter Iraqi propaganda that U.S. soldiers were civilian-devouring cannibals. On several occasions, patrolling U.S. troops in the area were greeted by screams of "Don't eat us, please" from Iraqi villagers, according to Capt. Paul Floyd of the 101st Airborne.

Landscape Littered

Across the western flank of the coalition offensive, soldiers fanned out across a landscape littered with abandoned weapons, burned-out tanks and trucks and frightened civilians. Along one road, women looted an overturned truck filled with flour, baring single breasts to patrolling soldiers to indicate that their children were hungry.

Nine British soldiers were reported yesterday to have died when an American A-10 warplane mistakenly fired on two British infantry fighting vehicles belonging to the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. The accident came despite what a British military spokesman described as "mutual recognition symbols" painted on the British vehicles.

The fourth and final day of the allied ground offensive came as Iraq had offered further concessions in exchange for a cease-fire. But the Bush administration had dismissed the gambit as falling "far short of what's necessary," the same rationale used by the White House since Baghdad first floated a withdrawal overture. Baghdad Radio said Iraq would accept two U.N. resolutions -- 662, which declares Iraq's annexation of Kuwait null and void, and 674, which calls on the international community to document human rights violations and assess economic damage to Kuwait for possible later war crimes charges and reparations claims.

But White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said "this is still a conditional offer," a judgment echoed by the British government. The Bush administration had said that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must personally and unconditionally accept all 12 U.N. resolutions against Iraq. In New York, U.N. sources said early today that a new letter had been received from Baghdad promising compliance with all the resolutions, but that the letter was a response to Security Council actions, rather than to Bush's terms.

Baghdad Radio continued to issue defiant communiques, and an unidentified Iraqi military spokesman was quoted by the radio as declaring that "the enemy has interfered in the withdrawal of our forces and demonstrated all his cowardly, mean and lowly characteristics while trying to harm our units."

Victorious American officials could scarcely conceal scorn for the Iraqis. Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney boasted that the "mother of all battles" pledged by Saddam "has turned into the mother of all retreats."

Schwarzkopf, asked for his impressions of Saddam as a military strategist, responded, "Ha! As far as Saddam Hussein being a great military strategist, he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational art, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that, he's a great military man."

The commander also dismissed suggestions that the allies had secret designs on Iraqi territory or a plan to seize the Iraqi capital. Noting that French forces and the 101st Airborne Division had driven deep toward the Euphrates from western Saudi Arabia, Schwarzkopf said: "We were 150 miles from Baghdad, and there was nothing between us and Baghdad. If it had been our intention to take Iraq, if it had been our intention to destroy the country, if it had been our intention to overrun the country, we could have done it unopposed for all intents and purposes. But . . . our intention was purely to eject the Iraqis out of Kuwait and to destroy the military power that had come in here."

Schwarzkopf also explicitly conceded that his current military mission is "to make sure that the Republican Guard is rendered incapable of conducting the type of heinous act that they've conducted so often in the past."

Bush, in his speech last night, reassured the Iraqi people that "we do not seek your destruction." But he also reiterated his oft-declared contempt for Saddam and warned that Baghdad "must comply fully with all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions," including "a rescinding of Iraq's August decision to annex Kuwait and acceptance in principle of Iraq's responsibility to pay compensation for the loss, damage and injury its aggression has caused."

Praising "those who risked their lives" and urging the country to "never forget those who gave their lives," Bush said "we must now begin to look beyond victory and war. We must meet the challenge of securing the peace."

Baker Phones Soviet

Before the president's speech, Baker telephoned Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertynkh and U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar to inform them of the planned announcement. U.S. officials around the globe were instructed to tell other governments of Bush's cease-fire order; a similar message also was passed to Iran through the Swiss.

Under the classified orders sent from the Pentagon to Schwarzkopf, U.S. military commanders in the field are to halt offensive operations in favor of a defensive posture that permits self-protection against an attack or "the threat of imminent attack," a Pentagon official said last night. The instructions also state that the allies should continue reconnaissance and surveillance, guard against Scud launches and "prepare to resume an offensive posture," if needed. The orders appear to mean the Iraqis "will have to get out of their vehicles to pass through our lines," the official said.

Yesterday's climactic attack by the VII Corps and XVIII Airborne Corps, supported by the British 1st Armored Division, concluded a bold flanking maneuver by more than 100,000 soldiers to skirt beyond the western fringe of Iraqi defense fortifications and attack the Republican Guard from the sides and rear. Schwarzkopf described the action as "a classic tank battle {of} fire and maneuver. . . . Our forces are in the business of outflanking them, taking them from the rear using our attack helicopters."

The battle culminated yesterday in a foul, pelting rain and high winds, which Schwarzkopf -- an infantryman -- described as "infantryman's weather." With the XVIII Airborne Corps -- spearheaded by the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division -- moving from west to east just below the Euphrates valley, and the VII Corps -- with three heavy armored divisions -- moving parallel farther south, "we have a solid wall . . . attacking straight to the east," Schwarzkopf said. "And the gates are closed. There is no way out of here."

U.S. commanders involved in the battle yesterday said that some of the well-equipped Republican Guard troops had fought hard, unlike the many Iraqi units that either quickly capitulated or broke and ran, but had been overwhelmed by U.S. firepower, speed and the technological superiority of such weapons as the Hellfire anti-tank missile. U.S. thermal tank sights "have worked fantastically well in their ability to acquire" targets through dust, smoke and haze, Schwarzkopf said. Officers in the field described signs of one Iraqi division destroying some of its equipment during a retreat toward a position around the port city of Basra.

"We're grabbing ahold of them and hanging onto them like a junkyard dog," a U.S. military officer said.

Coalition commanders described a battlefield campaign unprecedented in the history of warfare for the speed of its movements and the violence of its weaponry. In the battle with the Republican Guard, U.S. forces typically hit defending armored units first with Apache attack helicopters firing air-to-surface missiles, then manuevered M-1A1 battle tanks into position to destroy exposed tanks and armored personnel carriers.

The mobility, air supremacy and firepower of the allied forces severely limited the tactic that had been most useful for the Republican Guard during Iraq's long war with Iran: the massing of artillery fire to ward off attackers and set the stage for Iraqi counter-offensives, U.S. military officers said.

U.S. tanks avoided lingering in one place long enough to allow the Iraqis to target massive artillery barrages, officers said, and the use of allied attack helicopters and air strikes to hit any Iraqi unit revealing its position discouraged such massed fire.

Behind defensive lines west of Basra established by the Republican Guard, thousands of other Iraqi troops originally positioned in Kuwait poured north toward Iraq yesterday, jamming roads and creating bottlenecks as they sought to escape into Basra or across makeshift bridges over the Euphrates River. "Everything's pointed north and most everything's on the move," said Capt. Jay Campbell, commander of the air wing on the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, which flew missions over the retreating troops.

Although Schwarzkopf said "the gate's closed" to an Iraqi retreat, allied commanders said they were less interested in killing or capturing fleeing soldiers than in making certain they do not take tanks and other equipment with them. Many individual soldiers reportedly were eluding the allies by crossing hastily erected pontoon bridges and fording shallow sections of the Euphrates; a thick ceiling of gray clouds above Kuwait and southern Iraq restricted some allied air attacks on bridges and fleeing troops.

Guards Delay Attack

The Republican Guard unit under the heaviest attack, a mechanized division known as the Tawalkana, employed well-disciplined delaying tactics to allow other troops to retreat toward Iraq. "She fought a delaying action that I would say, if I were the commander, I would not be displeased with," a U.S. officer said.

Officers said that during three days of fighting, the Tawalkana division fired back at U.S. armored forces mainly from fixed defensive bulwarks, shifting its position only once during the battle. The commanders reported that while destroying hundreds of Iraqi tanks, and armored vehicles during the engagement, U.S. forces had suffered only two damaged tanks and four damaged armored personnel carriers as of yesterday morning.

By mid-day yesterday, with the Tawalkana division -- which had an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 soldiers before the battle began on Monday -- reportedly out of action, U.S. forces near Basra turned their attention to two Republican Guard armored divisions equipped with Soviet-made T-72 tanks.

Allied officers said the battle with the guard entered an "exploitation and pursuit" phase in which U.S. forces attempted to press their advantage while Iraqi forces tried to hold firm as they and regular army troops behind them retreated.

There were no reports of any significant counterattack mounted by the Republican Guard, nor were there any indications of chemical or biological weapons being employed by the Iraqis. U.S. forces donned chemical protection suits, but not gas masks, yesterday morning out of concern that desperate guard units might unleash a chemical attack to buy time or punish the attacking troops.

In action away from the tank battle with the Republican Guard, U.S. Marines destroyed or disabled the remaining Iraqi tanks at Kuwait International Airport. After encircling the airport, the Marines waited for sunlight before closing in on the defending Iraqi troops in an effort to avoid hitting friendly positions in darkened crossfire. The Marines were reported to be in control of the airport by the afternoon.

The Marines' triumphant entry into Kuwait City capped a three-day thrust by two Marine divisions that breached Iraqi fortifications in southern Kuwait and exploded in a northwesterly drive toward the capital. The 1st Marine Division captured Kuwait International Airport yesterday morning to end a campaign in which an estimated 250 Iraqi tanks and fighting vehicles were destroyed. "They were simply overwhelmed," Boomer said of the front-line Iraqi troops. "I expected them to fight harder than they did. . . . My view is that their heart just wasn't in it."

The 2nd Marine Division and the Army's Tiger Brigade consolidated their grip on highways and crossroads west and northwest of Kuwait City yesterday, meeting little opposition and sealing off escape routes from the capital. "I don't think there are any more credible Iraqi forces left in Kuwait," said Lt. Col. Jan Huly, the division spokesman. "It's a rout."

A convoy of Marines, led by Boomer, toured the city and was showered with candy, cigarettes and Kuwaiti flags thrown by jubilant residents, who crowded streets and sidewalks and leaned from apartment windows flashing "V" signs and chanting "USA! USA!"

British tank forces yesterday joined the Americans' hot pursuit after slicing into Iraq and destroying "between 150 and 200 {Iraqi} tanks, approximately 100 infantry fighting vehicles and 100 artillery pieces," British Col. Barry Stevens told reporters. Stevens disclosed that of 13 dead British soldiers, nine died when an American A-10 warplane "inadvertently fired on two of our infantry fighting vehicles" from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

Seven of the U.S. soldiers killed in action, including two officers, died while operating under French command. Members of the 82nd Airborne Division, the soldiers died Tuesday during mine-clearing operations at As Salman, the abandoned command post of Iraq's 45th Infantry Regiment. French armed forces chief Gen. Maurice Schmitt announced in Paris that the American deaths came as the French Daguet Division -- a light armored force of 9,000 soldiers including Foreign Legionnaires -- had destroyed 21 Iraqi tanks as part of a large arsenal of weapons and other equipment.

Schwarzkopf said the French had been positioned on the extreme left flank of the VII Corps thrust to protect the move against an Iraqi attack from the west. As part of that mission, French Army chief of staff Gen. Gilbert Forray said the Daguet soldiers had rolled over the 8,000 men of the Iraqi 45th Infantry at their base about 100 miles inside Iraq. "The adversary had no choice but to surrender," Forray said.

Atkinson reported from Washington, Coll from Saudi Arabia. Staff writers David Hoffman, R. Jeffrey Smith and staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.


© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

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