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Iraq Time Line

 

Arab Forces, Marines Take Kuwait City

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 28, 1991; Page A01

KUWAIT CITY, FEB. 27 -- The streets of battered Kuwait City exploded in an emotional demonstration by jubilant, flag-waving citizens today as allied forces freed the city after seven months of Iraqi occupation and three days of ground war.

Two U.S. Marine divisions had surrounded the capital city late Tuesday night in several fierce firefights, crumpling Iraqi military forces. The Marines then held their positions while Arab coalition forces marched triumphantly and unopposed into the pillaged city just after daybreak this morning, setting off a daylong explosion of delirious joy in the streets.

At midafternoon today, the first American military convoy to rumble into the city also was besieged by hundreds of cheering men, women and children, many in tears, screaming, "Thank you, thank you!" The roads were lined with gleeful young girls in skirts sewn from Kuwaiti flags, sobbing women in black robes and young men flashing victory signs and shaking clenched fists. Others danced on the rooftops of buildings waving green-white-red-and-black Kuwaiti flags and banners at the troops below.

One crowd raced toward the convoy and tossed a Kuwaiti flag to Marine commander Lt. Gen. Walter Boomer, who had directed the Marine attack on Iraqi troops from a mobile command center as it crossed the desert.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said the three-star general who rode through the city atop the amphibious landing vehicle that had served as the nerve center of the Marine operation. "There are some things worth fighting for. When you see them regain their freedom and their joy at seeing them {the Iraqis} leave, it is quite a feeling. I'm glad we could be part of returning it back to them."

Military officials said that by the time the Arab forces rolled into the city at dawn this morning, there were few Iraqis left here and virtually no resistance. As the troops were moving into some areas near the city, special operations forces flying in helicopters with loudspeakers asked Kuwaiti citizens to report locations of any Iraqi troops left in the city.

In 72 hours Marine forces had snaked along narrow lanes cut through minefields, fanned out their forces and began a steady push toward Kuwait City that was met with only sporadic resistance and occasionally was hampered by massive numbers of surrendering Iraqis. Most field commanders were stunned that the Iraqi forces, initially considered formidable by many because of their large numbers and their experience in fighting an eight-year war with Iran, had fled their tanks and bunkers so quickly as the Marines and Arab forces swept northward.

"The heart wasn't in this fight," said Boomer. "They were someplace they didn't want to be and about to die for something they didn't want to die for." He added, "However, I was surprised they didn't fight a little harder."

Commanders also said they had begun learning through reconnaissance teams and other intelligence sources in the final weeks before the land offensive that Iraqi defenses were far less daunting than originally believed.

"The magic defensive line that was the marvel of the century did not exist," said Boomer.

"Whatever they planned to do, we unnerved them," said Maj. Gen. J.M. Myatt, who commands the Marine 1st Division.

"There were 100 things that could have gone wrong," said Boomer. "It really did go as planned. We certainly thought it was going to be a hard proposal for us because he had so many people down there." Boomer said the two Marine divisions faced 11 Iraqi divisions.

Marine commanders also staged numerous feinting attacks in an effort to keep the Iraqi troops off balance. Although more than 30,000 Marine troops floated off the Kuwaiti coast, commanders did not intend to launch a dangerous and potentially high-casualty amphibious landing, but rather used the threat of the attack to force the Iraqis to divert massive efforts into defending the shoreline from such an assault.

U.S. commanders learned today that the deception had worked. Across the street from the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City, Special Forces teams discovered an elaborate sand-table model of the Iraqi military plan for the defense of Kuwait City. Four huge red arrows from the sea pointed at the coastline of Kuwait City and the huge defensive effort positioned there. Small fences of concertina wire marked the shoreline and models of artillery pieces lined the shore area. Throughout the city were plastic models of other artillery and air defense positions, while thin, red-painted strips of board designated supply routes and main highways.

"This is a gold mine," marveled a commander as he paced around the edges of the map in a large room apparently used to teach defensive tactics to Iraqi officers.

Five Marines were killed and 48 wounded in the three days of fighting, Marine officials said.

The military avenues across the desert from the Saudi border to Kuwait City are now littered with the wreckage of war: smoldering tank carcasses, twisted and charred artillery guns, and hundreds of collapsed bunkers once inhabited by Iraqi infantry. Iraqi troops left one tank so quickly that a bag of what appeared to be food was still sitting on a makeshift table between two unmarred chairs, only a few feet away from the burning tank's black hulk.

"We just went through a whole field of burning tanks," Boomer reported to former tanker Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. forces, during one report from his mobile command center. "It would have done an old tanker's heart good."

The sandy plain surrounding Kuwait City is a graveyard of abandoned trucks, collapsing bunkers and the jagged metal skeletons of military weaponry. The oil fields outside Kuwait City have been turned into an inferno of dozens of orange blazes and black oily smoke from wellheads exploded by departing Iraqi forces. Marines encountered one of the fiercest firefights of the campaign as Iraqi troops hiding in the oil fields launched a surprise counterattack through the haze of smoke and fire.

Early Tuesday morning, Marine generals had gathered at an austere mobile desert outpost to plot the strategy for their final push to isolate Kuwait City. Bending over a large map spread across the sand, the commanders prepared for the toughest battles they were to face in the brief campaign.

In the final hours they speeded the operation in an effort to sever escape lanes from Kuwait City after hundreds of Iraqi vehicles and troops were reported fleeing the city. Marine commanders hoped to destroy as much of the equipment as they could before the forces returned to Iraq.

As the 1st Division edged nearer the city, commanders heard reports of two developing counterattacks by Iraqi forces.

"We fired on the two gathering points and it wasn't 30 minutes before we scattered them like rabbits out of the bush," said Myatt, the division commander. "The Cobras {helicopter gunships} and the LAVs {light armored vehicles} had a field day" as a "hunter-killer package" to search out and destroy Iraqi equipment.

In one battle, aging Marine M-60 tanks destroyed about 100 Iraqi tanks and armor, including about 50 top-of-the-line Soviet T-72 tanks, the commander said.

Late Tuesday and into the night, some of the battles intensified as Marine forces surrounded the heavily defended Kuwait International Airport. U.S. Navy battleships offshore in the Persian Gulf pounded the airport hangars, terminals and other buildings, leaving them a shambles of twisted metal and blackened concrete in an effort to rout Iraqi forces from the field. Marine commanders said that cameras in remotely piloted aircraft that monitored the bombings showed Iraqis "literally jumping out of the tanks."

After the Marines commandeered the critical airfield today, Special Forces teams arrived to counter snipers and other pockets of resistance that remained entrenched around the large airport complex.

While the Marine assault through Kuwait went so smoothly that it worried commanders on the first day, the operation was not without some problems. Weather and the thick blanket of smoke created by the oil fires slowed some operations. One commander said the skies were so dark one day that he was forced to use a flashlight to read his maps at noon. On Tuesday night, the Marines stopped most of their movement because the night was so inky black.

But one of the most pervasive problems was the thousands of surrendering Iraqi troops. A field commander said that at one point he faced so many surrendering troops that they were hampering his ability to push his forces through the battlefield. Another commander said Iraqi forces began attacking his troops as a wave of fellow Iraqi soldiers was surrendering ahead of the fire.

The large number of prisoners overwhelmed military efforts to provide food and water for the Iraqis, many of whom said they had not eaten in three or four days. At one desert location, American forces rounded up 3,500 prisoners inside two fences of concertina wire. When U.S. military police arrived with the first jugs of water, they said the Iraqis were so desperate that they began trying to climb over the razor-sharp wire.

Although Arab forces were allowed to move into Kuwait City first, a Marine reconnaissance team of about a dozen men sneaked into the U.S. Embassy at about 7 p.m. Tuesday. One of the Marines said members of the Kuwaiti resistance guided them to the embassy, which appeared untouched by the Iraqi occupation forces. The Stars and Stripes fluttered atop the flagpole, and the grounds appeared unkempt but otherwise unmarred.

© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

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