Vigilant Knights in the Desert
On 2 August 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia. Four days later, the Army alerted the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade for eventual deployment as part of Operation DESERT SHIELD. By the end of the month, its first elements arrived in Saudi Arabia. Eventually, the brigade’s deployed strength ballooned to over 2,200 Soldiers. With these Soldiers, the 513th MI provided multi-disciplined collection, all-source analysis, and widespread dissemination of theater-level intelligence to LTG John Yeosock’s US Army Central Command (ARCENT).
Deploying from Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, the 513th MI Brigade consisted of four battalions that operated at the echelon above corps level. The 201st MI Battalion conducted signals intelligence (SIGINT) operations. The 202d MI Battalion provided counterintelligence (CI), interrogation, and document exploitation support. The 297th MI Battalion supplied imagery analysis as well as ARCENT’s Intelligence Center. Finally, the Foreign Materiel Intelligence Battalion (FMIB) performed technical intelligence operations. In addition to these four subordinate battalions, the 513th later assumed command responsibilities for elements from six other MI battalions.
To follow its initial deployment, the brigade sent Task Force 174, under LTC Robert Butto, to Saudi Arabia. With elements from each of the 513th MI’s four battalions, the task force laid the ground work for the rest of the brigade’s arrival. Butto’s advanced party landed in Riyadh on 1 September. Within 24 hours of its arrival, it had established an Intelligence Center for ARCENT’s G-2 and begun to provide essential intelligence support. One of the center’s earliest studies provided an analysis of the terrain to the west of the Iraqi forces which stated that the ground could support movement by the Army’s armored forces. Briefed to the Central Command’s senior leadership, this assessment helped shape the eventual American ground campaign.
As TF 174 continued its shoestring operations, the rest of the brigade waited for transportation into theater. The need to build up combat power to counter the Iraqi forces meant that intelligence and other support assets were left behind. As it waited, the brigade received a new commander, COL William M. Robeson, on 12 September. Faced with a painfully slow deployment, Robeson traveled to ARCENT headquarters to provide senior on-the-ground leadership and try to push for the deployment of the rest of his brigade.
When Robeson arrived, the 513th MI had just under 200 Soldiers in theater. Although still constrained by limited transportation, he was able to gain approval to bring much of his brigade’s staff to Saudi Arabia in the fall of 1990. The staff was able to make the most of the brigade’s limited assets, establishing limited collection facilities and planning for integrating new equipment—such as the SANDCRAB jamming system—into brigade operations.
By early November the brigade had deployed 500 soldiers—about one-third of its assigned strength—allowing it to enlarge its operations including aerial SIGINT operations and increased CI coverage. Moreover, COL Robeson received permission to call forward the balance of his brigade. At the end of 1990, the brigade’s strength was approaching 90 percent and it received important reinforcements to enhance its theater imagery capabilities.
At the same time, BG John Stewart became the ARCENT G-2 and quickly moved to prepare his staff for more active operations. Not only did he enlarge the staff, he infused it with senior MI leaders from throughout the Army. Both actions benefited the 513th MI Brigade. The experienced leaders supplemented the hard work and enthusiasm of younger Soldiers in the ARCENT Intelligence Center with insight and practical knowledge. Within a few weeks, the brigade almost doubled in size as its battalions finished their deployment and readied themselves to support ARCENT’s offensive.
In January 1991, COL Robeson oversaw the development of key theater intelligence organizations. The 201st MI Battalion coordinated the SIGINT efforts of its ground and aerial assets through the Integrated Ground Operating Facility. Shortly afterwards, the 202d MI Battalion established two joint interrogation facilities and later a document exploitation center. Meanwhile, the 297th MI Battalion provided much of the manning for the Joint Imagery Production Center, which garnered tactical support from theater and national imagery systems. Finally, the FMIB organized the Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Center for in-theater technical intelligence. Through these operations, the Soldiers of the 513th MI Brigade provided effective multi-discipline intelligence for Army and theater decision makers, greatly assisting the successful ground campaign.
Despite the challenges of a slow deployment to an undeveloped theater, incorporation of almost one thousand augmentees and the integration of new equipment, the 513th MI effectively linked the corps and divisions to intelligence information from the national agencies. It also produced its own intelligence through its various joint facilities and organic collection assets. As BG Stewart noted in his after action report the 513th MI Brigade was “the” key MI capability at the Army level during Operations Desert SHIELD/STORM.
[This article was written by Michael E. Bigelow, Command Historian, US Army Intelligence and Security Command, in February 2016 for the Moments in MI History series.]
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