Iraq's brief capture of a Saudi coastal town in January tipped U.S. military planners to Iraqi weaknesses and led to important revisions in the allied ground war plan, a senior Marine Corps officer says.
The battle of Khafji, in which about 1,500 Iraqi soldiers briefly gained control of the abandoned town Jan. 30, told U.S. military planners at least three important things that helped shape the eventual allied offensive, the officer said Thursday.The lessons learned:
- Iraq's respected armored forces in the interior of Kuwait were unable to adequately communicate, and thus coordinate, with the forces closer to the Saudi border.
- Iraqi forces showed little skill in using their powerful artillery to support the infantry and armored troops. This indicated to the allies that their fears of being mowed down by artillery fire at the outset of an allied offensive were overblown.
- The Iraqi soldiers had little will to fight. From the Khafji battle, in which hundreds of Iraqis surrendered and many were killed, the allies deduced that "they were not as tough as we thought they might be," the officer said.
The officer, who helped oversee Operation Desert Storm from start to finish, said, "We had indications at Khafji that they (the Iraqis) wouldn't stay and fight" if taken on by an allied ground offensive inside Kuwait, he added.
After the battle, and on the basis of other intelligence information gathered in January, the U.S. Central Command decided to shift the main points of attack for the two Marine divisions situated along the Persian Gulf coast, the officer said.
The 18,000-man 1st Marine Division, which kicked off the allied offensive at 4 a.m. Sunday, drove northeast toward Jaber airfield and gained control of it within 24 hours. It then moved on to Kuwait International Airport, where it engaged Iraqi armor in an intense battle in which about 310 Iraqi tanks were destroyed. The Marines, using older-model M-60 tanks, lost none, the officer said.
The 2nd Marine Division, starting its drive at a point northwest of the 1st Division at 5 a.m. Sunday, drove northeast to the town of al-Jahra, a strategic point at the neck of Kuwait Bay and a major road junction for traffic from Kuwait City. The officer said this was "truly critical terrain" for the allies to hold.
These two points of attack into Iraq's heavily fortified defenses along the Kuwait-Saudi border were chosen in part because they allowed the Marines to cross a boundary between two Iraqi corps. The Khafji fighting indicated to allied planners that the boundary was a weak point that could be exploited, the officer said.
The source also disclosed that Iraqi mines off the Kuwaiti coast were "more extensive and more complex" than the allies had anticipated. This was a limiting factor in deciding whether to launch an amphibious assault by a task force of about 18,000 Marines afloat on 31 ships in the gulf.
No landing was made, but Marine helicopters flew toward the Kuwaiti coast in the earliest stages of the ground war to make Iraq think one was under way, the officer said. Fake radio messages describing a landing operation were transmitted from a Navy vessel to reinforce the deception, he said.