An American-led coalition of a half million soldiers mustered in the Persian Gulf in the closing months of 1990. The coalition readied itself for war under the auspices of the United Nations as a result of Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait and its threat to peace and security in the Persian Gulf.
The Allies were under significant pressure given the capabilities of Saddam Hussein’s military forces. The Iraqis possessed considerable military breadth and depth. The Iraqi army had over one million soldiers in uniform supported by more than 5,500 tanks, including modern T-72s and over 3,000 artillery pieces. To this was added the elite Republican Guard who numbered over 80,000 troops. And the Iraqis also boasted over 750 French- and Soviet-made aircraft, including 500 fighters and fighter-bombers.
But perhaps even more worrisome was that the Iraqi armed forces were combat-tested in a decade-long war against Iran during the 1980s, while Western forces hadn’t waged a full-scale war since the days of the Korean conflict.
The Canadian Forces deployed to the Persian Gulf in August 1990, shortly after the UN passed Resolution 661 authorizing an embargo against Iraq to restore peace to the region. Operation Friction, the Canadian contribution to the Allied effort, brought together a Naval Task Group, a field hospital and 24 CF-18 fighters.
The 2,700 Canadians in-theatre could have been lost amidst the half million–sized force. They were not because Canadian commanders insisted on national control over their troops’ employment. And even when tactical control was extended to foreign commanders, it was done on the understanding of specific limitations.
The Canadian Naval Task Group consisted of the destroyers HMCS Terra Nova and HMCS Athabaskan, and the supply ship HMCS Protecteur. They intercepted suspicious shipping in the Persian Gulf.
The Canadian field hospital with 530 personnel operated with the British division, caring for both British and Iraqi wounded.
The CF-18s operated out of the Canada Dry bases in Qatar, performing combat air patrol, escort and reconnaissance missions. For the first time since the Korean War, Canadian air-to-surface attacks took place during the conflict.
Iraq’s deadline to comply with UN Resolution 660 (to abandon its occupation of Kuwait and return home) expired on January 15, 1991. After this date, the Allied force, led by American General Norman Schwarzkopf, was free to commence military operations.
The “shock and awe” of post-modern industrialized warfare was about to be unleashed all over Iraqi forces.
The air war began two days later – January 17. This phase of the campaign was designed to knock out the command, control, communications and air capabilities of Iraqi forces. The Allied air war paid off and opened the way for the troops on the ground.
The mighty ground offensive launched on February 24 was an exercise in the application of overwhelming force. Several brave Iraqi units stood their ground and fought hard, but the result seemed almost inevitable. The Iraqis didn’t have a chance.
Three days following the “race to Iraq” – such was the speed of the retreating Iraqis that Allied soldiers involved in the ground offensive described their experiences as a race – after just 100 hours of ground operations, the Iraqis had been unceremoniously ejected from Kuwait.
American President George H.W. Bush declared a unilateral cease-fire on February 28. Iraq agreed to abide by the terms of the UN Resolutions on March 3, and the official cease-fire came into effect on April 6.