Army Intelligence Soldiers post Iraqi positions on one of the large-scale maps used during Operation DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM. (US Army photo)

Buildup for Operation DESERT STORM

On August 2, 1990, the Iraqi Republican Guard invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait. Within 48 hours, the military force had established a defensive line along the Saudi Arabian border. The United Nations (UN) issued a warning to Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, to remove his troops from Kuwait by January 15, 1991, or face a full attack by a multi-national force. Tension in the region remained high as Saudi Arabia anticipated an Iraqi offensive on its oil fields and ports in the Persian Gulf.

Within days of the invasion of Kuwait, President George H. Bush announced the commitment of American forces to the region to counter any Iraqi attack into Saudi Arabia. Operation DESERT SHIELD, a six-month buildup of troops and equipment in Saudi Arabia, represented an unprecedented projection of the US Army—the largest force assembled so quickly over so great a distance. Eventually, more than 500,000 troops from all services would serve in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM.

Because the immediate need in the region was a combat force to counter potential Iraqi movements, the deployment of support forces, including intelligence, was a secondary priority. While combat units first arrived in late August, the majority of intelligence assets did not deploy until September. By the end of the year, however, the US Army had fielded the MI battalions of seven Army divisions, two Corps’ MI brigades, and a third MI brigade in support of the Field Army.

To mask US intentions, once in the region, intelligence assets were kept far behind the front lines, hindering their ability to develop a comprehensive picture of Iraqi intentions and capabilities. According to Col. Richard Quirk, the 24th Infantry Division’s G2, “we were primarily consumers of national and theater level intelligence, and were unable to execute the tactical intelligence cycle. …Higher headquarters prohibited us from moving the division’s intelligence collectors to the Kuwaiti border area in order to collect. We had received very little of the technical data needed by some collection disciplines, and we were unable to collect the information ourselves because we were too far from the border.” Furthermore, the G2 staff was unable to rehearse the collection management mission or test and develop its communications and reporting system. “The division intelligence structure was idling in neutral and losing a critical opportunity to prepare itself.”

In addition to being kept from the front lines, intelligence faced several other challenges trying to assist with both defensive and offensive planning. Not only was the region poorly mapped but the maps that did exist were in short supply, contributing to a lack of terrain intelligence. The lack of maps was compounded by the lack of imagery.

Reconnaissance aircraft could not fly over the Area of Operations until the airspace was secure from Iraqi air defenses. The Army’s only aerial intelligence capability, III Corps’ 15th MI Battalion, arrived in mid-October. Unfortunately, the Joint Imagery Processing Center, the only facility available for producing annotated hard copy photographs, did not arrive until December.

Consequently, the Army’s Intelligence and Threat Analysis Center, a core component of the DoD-level Joint Intelligence Center in Washington, DC, used overhead systems to prepare 1:50,000 scale maps of the region overlaid with the locations of enemy firing positions. To the best of their ability, the deployed G2 sections also assembled terrain overlays, distributed on acetate or mylar, that showed lines of communication and transportation, gas and oil pipelines, water sources, and obstacles constructed in Kuwait by Iraqi forces.

During this preparation period, Division G2 analysts kept busy providing answers to questions about enemy mines, radar and air defense artillery. Counterintelligence assets integrated their efforts with Military Police and established contacts with locals to keep abreast of suspicious activities and locate Iraqi agents. The 24th Infantry G2 also built and shaped the capability of the Long Range Surveillance Detachment for eventual employment in combat. Intelligence personnel monitored media broadcasts from Iraq and Saudi Arabia to develop an appreciation of the political context of the conflict.

Terrain analysts published “TripTiks” with road conditions and checkpoint coordinates to aid truck drivers traveling on desert routes. Finally, higher-level intelligence sections distributed intelligence to subordinate S2s at brigades and battalions. On January 17, 1991, after Iraq’s failure to meet the UN deadline, a coalition force from 34 nations, led by the United States, moved in to force Iraq to retreat. Operation DESERT STORM started with a month-long air war, followed by a ground offensive that lasted only 100 hours. The intelligence effort over the previous six months, while fraught with challenges, had accomplished much to prepare the US for combat.

[This article was written by Lori S. Tagg, USAICoE Command Historian, in December 2015 for the Moments in MI series.]

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