An Eyewitness Account
By LTC FRED L. HART JR.
Professor Doug Johnson
The views expressed in this paper are those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect
the views of the Department of Defense or any of its agencies.
This document may not be released for open publication until it has been cleared
by the appropriate military service or government agency.
U.S. Army War College
CARLISLE BARRACKS, PENNSYLVANIA 17013
This personal experience monograph (PEM) is based on the author's personal experience, first hand knowledge, and witnessing of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990. Assigned to Kuwait as an advisor to the Kuwaiti Land Forces on 1 August 1989, the author was involved in the events leading up, during, and after the invasion by Iraqi forces. This PEM provides an historical account of the experiences and actions taken by the United States Liaison Office Kuwait (USLOK), which was based out the American Embassy Kuwait. It also documents our beleaguered status in Kuwait and Baghdad, Iraq, from August 1990 to 10 December 1990. The photograph of Iraqi Republican Guard T-72 on the title page was taken from Chief Dave Forties apartment which was located along Gulf Road in Kuwait City, Kuwait, note the date on the photograph: Aug 4 1990.
This purpose of this Personal Experience Monograph (PEM) is to provide an account of events leading up to the invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent ordeal that eleven military members and their families endured from 2 August 1990 to 10 December 1990. The account is based on my personal experience, notes, and diary that I maintained through the crisis. I want to acknowledge all the members of the United States Liaison Office Kuwait (USLOK). They displayed the highest degree of courage, ingenuity, initiative, and dedication to duty. In my opinion USLOK was a major factor in the ability of U.S. embassies in Kuwait and Iraq to function smoothly and remain capable of executing their diplomatic mission throughout the crisis.
I want to recognize Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dave Forties for his skill and courage in operating on the streets, alleyways and back roads of Kuwait and Baghdad searching for foodstocks. Chief Forties more than any other coordinated, procured, and arranged for all the foodstocks that allowed Ambassador Nathaniel Howell and his staff the capability to thwart the Iraqi siege on the embassy compound. He repeated this performance while detained in Baghdad. His cunning, initiative, and ingenuity ensured both embassy compounds had ample foodstocks in order to sustain themselves during the entire crisis.
I would like to thank the members of the Individual Terrorist Awareness Course (INTAC) at Ft. Bragg, NC for their outstanding instruction that contributed significantly to my ability to deal with the hostage situation my family and I found ourselves in.
The USLOK organization received two meritorious unit citations; one Army and one Joint for performance during the invasion and while detained in Kuwait and Iraq. This account will endeavor to tell the USLOK story and shed new insights on the events that occurred in Kuwait and Baghdad.
On 1 August 1989, my family and I arrived in Kuwait City. It was over 104 degrees outside at 2100hrs. Leaving the modern air-conditioned international terminal and walking outside was literally like walking into a blast furnace. I had arrived to begin serving a two year accompanied tour. My job was to be an advisor (logistics, maintenance, and training) to the Kuwait Land Forces and manage foreign military sales (FMS) cases.
I was assigned to a joint organization called United States Liaison Office Kuwait (USLOK) which was based out of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City. I worked Sunday through Thursday from an office at the Kuwait Land Forces, Director of Technical Affairs. Technical Affairs was essentially the Supply and Maintenance Directorate for the Kuwait Army. Our joint office at the embassy provided central management for all FMS cases, and International Military Education and Training (IMET). The total organization consisted of approximately 22 personnel, Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and a few DoD civilians. The Army members made up a technical assistance field team (TAFT), and our Chief of USLOK was an Army O-6.
The entire organization worked for U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) based at MacDill AFB, FL. The Chief was part of the embassy Country Team and worked for both CENTCOM and Ambassador Nathaniel Howell. The USLOK office interfaced almost daily with the CENTCOM J4/7 on matters concerning our mission of providing security assistance and FMS management to the Government of Kuwait.
The U.S. Army’s security assistance program was focused on logistical support to the Kuwaiti Land Forces through several FMS cases, mainly for support of U.S. purchased equipment. We also worked several active International Military Education Training (IMET) cases. These programs were small in comparison to Saudi Arabia, primarily because Kuwait maintained only three active brigades, a small Air Force, and Navy. The Kuwaiti’s were comfortable with this small force and felt they had no real cause to have a large or modernized Armed Forces. Many of us had often heard from Kuwaiti Army officers that the ruling family (Sabahs) realized that a small poorly trained and equipped force was less of a threat. Land Force officers also felt that the Air Force got more defense dollars because you can’t occupy a palace with a fighter jet. I speculate that there might have been some truth in all this. The Kuwait Army also had a manpower problem and no true Kuwaiti would ever be a NCO or worst yet an enlisted man. Without exception all officers were genuine Kuwaiti’s and almost all Colonels and above had ties to the royal family or members of prominent families. The Warrant officer and Non Commissioned Officer corps was non-full citizen Kuwaiti's or Bedouins. Enlisted personnel were a mixed bag of Bedouins, and third world nationals. Interesting to note that many in the NCOs and enlisted ranks were also of Iraqi origin and assisted the Iraqi Army as it invaded Kuwait.
Prior to 2 August 1990, Kuwait was an obscure oil rich Gulf-Arab state about the size of New Jersey. They were uncomfortably sandwiched between Iraq and Iran. Prior to the Iraqi invasion, most Americans had only a passing knowledge of Kuwait. Perhaps their only frame of reference was in regards to the reflagging of Kuwaiti Tankers under the US operation called “Earnest Will” (1987-1988) during the Iran/Iraq War (1980-1988). Once that ended both Kuwait and the U.S. had little interest in binding political relationships with each other. Unfolding events in the former Soviet Union and the former Warsaw pact was overshadowing most events occurring in the region (1989). After all, the Iran/Iraq war had ended and the region was ready for peace.
Our observations in the region indicated in early 1990 that storm clouds were gathering, but most in DoD and State Department had little interest in the ensuing inter-Arab dispute between Kuwait and Iraq. Even the CENTCOM J-2 threat update was focused on Iran as the major regional threat. The embassy was focused on monitoring the Russians in country and the extent of their military programs with Kuwait. There was interest in the internal Kuwaiti problems regarding a popular move to bring back the National Assembly. The Amir had dissolved the assembly a few years earlier when too much dissension was occurring. However, on the surface everything appeared to be peaceful.
Prior to the Gulf War, Kuwaiti Armed Forces were generally equipped and trained by the British. This was due to the long historical ties between Kuwait and the British. By the late eighties, the Kuwaitis had begun a modest program to upgrade their three Land Force brigades. The United States and western European nations had lost out when the Kuwaiti's decided, in early 1988, to buy Russian BMP IIs and Yugoslavian M-84s, (T-72 variant). This was attributed to the inexpensive deals both countries were offering in comparison to buying the more expensive and sophisticated U.S. and Western European armaments. Kuwait also had a tendency to engage several countries for arms deals, their way of spreading the wealth around. Their Army consisted of equipment from the U.S., Great Britain, France, Russia, Yugoslavia, and many others. It was a strategy to maintain friendship ties with many and show no favoritism towards one particular country. The result for their military was an absolute nightmare for interoperability. The Kuwait Government also required that U.S. military personnel wear no uniforms or openly acknowledge their presence, an arrangement that would pay dividends for us during the Iraqi invasion.
In the months proceeding the invasion, USLOK team members began monitoring the situation between Kuwait and Iraq. While working out in the field with the various units and at the Land Forces Headquarters, we began getting indicators as early as March 1990 that the relationship Kuwait shared with its neighbor to the north (Iraq) was taking a turn for the worst. However, in most diplomatic and military circles, it was felt that it was nothing more than bellicose chest pounding and posturing by Saddam Hussein. Many in the diplomatic circles felt the problem would eventually go away by the Kuwaiti's throwing millions of dollars at the disgruntled Iraqi leader, who had bankrupted his country after eight years of war with the Iranians and had nothing to show for it. At our Headquarters, CENTCOM J-2 and J-3 remained focused on Iran, and felt Iraq was too disorganized after the war with Iran to pose any near term threat in the region. Iranian radical fundamentalism and support of terrorism was believed to be far more threatening to the region. The Iran/Iraq war had cost Saddam Hussein dearly and he felt he had done the Gulf oil sheikdoms a favor by fighting the Iranians and stopping the spread radical Shia Islam. In hindsight, it’s easy to see that the war did nothing to improve Iraqi operational military prowess. His country was broke, his oil production was too low to get the economy back on its feet, and the Iraqi people had suffered tremendously.
In early 1990, the Arab League held a summit in Baghdad and Saddam initiated his political attacks against Kuwait and to a lesser degree on other Gulf nations. Kuwait specifically was accused of waging economic war against Iraq and slant drilling to steal oil from Iraqi fields along the border. When the summit ended most Arab nations felt Kuwait and Iraq would reach some type of monetary settlement. However, the problems continued to fester in the coming months as Iraq stepped up its propaganda war and launched significant personal attacks on the Kuwaitis and the ruling family.
By early June 1990, several senior Kuwaiti officers told us of the outlandish propaganda broadcast from Baghdad. They were extremely concerned and agitated because the language used in the broadcast was Arabic that one only uses when compromise is unattainable and the only recourse is to fight. They openly acknowledged that they were unprepared for any confrontation and the Kuwait government seemed to be unwilling to take any preparatory actions. Many also informed us that the Iraqi Army was conducting an unusually high number of exercises in southern Iraq. In mid-July 1990, the Kuwaiti military went on their first and only alert status, but after one week and evidence of Iraqi troop movements became clearer, the Kuwaiti's quickly called off their haphazard alert for fear of provoking Saddam Hussein. On a regional level President Hosni Mubarak (Egypt) and King Hussein (Jordan) attempted to persuade Iraq to at least meet with the Kuwaitis to discuss their problems. Both heads of state received assurances from Iraq that a peaceful solution could be found. At our embassy, there was interest in monitoring the situation, but with President Mubarak, and King Hussein's assurances most felt the problem would be settled, and Kuwait would reach a monetary settlement with Iraq. The Kuwaitis genuinely felt they had a chance to reach an agreement, but were bound and determine not to give up territory or completely forgive the war debt Saddam owed them. That essentially sealed their fate and made the meeting in Jeddah an Iraqi ploy to demonstrate they had left no stone unturned in trying to settle a dispute in a Arab brotherly fashion. Also, now known, was the fact that the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie had met with Saddam in mid-July and essentially conveyed to him that the U.S. had no interest in his dispute with Kuwait and no defense treaties. Department of State (DOS) also conveyed this same message just weeks before the invasion in congressional testimony.
Once it was realized that a compromise would not be reached, and the Iraqi leader's demands were unyielding, (this timeframe was the week prior to the invasion), Kuwaiti's began talking of the Iraqi's seizing the contested northern (Rumaylla) oilfields and the two tiny islands (Warba/Bubiyan) near the mouth of the Shatt al Arab, entrance way into the Arabian Gulf. There had been a historical precedent for this during a 1961 Kuwait/Iraq border dispute that was quickly resolved when the British committed a small force to stymie the Iraqi incursion. Now the situation was different, Iraq at last had a sizable force, and Kuwait no longer had any western defense pacts or treaties. In fact, the one defense treaty that Kuwait participated in was the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council).