NEWS | Feb. 25, 2019

U.S. Army Soldiers experience Kuwait Liberation Day history

By Maj. David Adams Task Force Spartan

The close relationship between the United States and Kuwait spans decades. The “Americani Hospital” was the first concrete building in Kuwait and served the people of Kuwait from 1914 to 1967. In 1951, 10 years before Kuwait’s independence, the first U.S. consulate opened in the country. This relationship, spanning over a century, can be seen today in the close partnership between the United States and Kuwait militaries.

Members of the U.S. Army’s 34th Red Bull Infantry Division recently joined Kuwaiti hosts to learn more about Kuwait’s struggle against Iraqi forces during Saddam Hussain’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The first stop was at the Al-Qurain Martyrs Museum in Kuwait City. After the museum tour, the Soldiers headed to the desert for a visit to a Kuwait 35th Armored Brigade compound, home to a large terrain model of Kuwait where the Iraq invasion is recounted by Kuwait military veterans.

At the museum, the Soldiers learned about the struggle of 19 brave Kuwaiti men, armed only with small arms weapons, against far superior numbers of Iraqi troops equipped with heavy weapons including machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and tanks. The museum director walked the visitors through the 10-hour struggle in which 12 of the group members were killed and seven survived. He also talked about the wider resistance movement in Kuwait.

After the Iraqi invasion, 400,000 Kuwaiti citizens left the country. From those remaining, a determined resistance network rose up which had four main focuses. The resistance provided essential services and support to the remaining Kuwaitis; led civil disobedience including public demonstrations and the boycott of most work; worked to prevent the destruction in the oil fields; and conducted critical military operations, both attacking Iraqi troops and gathering intelligence for the allies.

The resistance originated from family and religious groups, which make up the key elements of Kuwaiti life today. These were small, tight-knit groups with no central authority point, where members had to be able to trust each other completely, as betrayal meant a grisly death at the hands of the occupying forces. The decentralization of the multiple small groups also meant that should one be eliminated the other groups could continue the fight. This led to an agile and deadly resistance movement which inflicted significant casualties on the better armed Iraqi occupation army.

This popular resistance movement drew Kuwaitis, and non-Kuwaitis, from all walks of life. Some of the members were police or military professionals, but most were ordinary citizens who bravely choose to stay and fight for their country. The invasion and resistance struggle saw hundreds of Kuwaitis killed and hundreds more remain unaccounted for today as the Iraqi Army took many prisoners north as they fled the city.

Next stop on the Liberation Day-focused tour was a Kuwaiti military base deep in the desert.

Welcoming the American visitors were a number of veteran Kuwaiti Army and Air Force personnel, eager to use their terrain model of Kuwait to provide a staff walk of the Iraqi invasion. 

On August 2, 1990, at 2:00 a.m. four elite Iraqi Republican Guard divisions and Iraqi Special Forces units sped across the Iraq/Kuwait border in a multi-pronged assault aimed for Kuwait City. 

Kuwait’s 35th Armored Brigade responded with a force of Chieftain main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery pieces. These Kuwaitis attacked the Iraqi armored columns as they approached Kuwait City in what became known as the Battle of the Bridges.

The Kuwaiti Chieftain tanks engaged Iraqi armor and infantry at close range as the understrength Kuwaiti artillery joined the battle from nearby. Iraqi forces found themselves pinched between Kuwaiti battalions, took heavy casualties and withdrew. Despite this success and driving the Iraqis back from the outskirts of the city, the Kuwaiti forces found themselves outnumbered, running out of ammunition and in danger of being encircled as Iraqi forces continued to pour into the area.

Kuwaiti Air Force aircraft engaged the Iraqis in the skies above Kuwait, inflicting significant damage to the Iraqis while losing about 20 percent of their forces.

The Kuwaitis were forced to withdraw south to Saudi Arabia, where they would later add their veteran forces to the allied coalition which would shatter Saddam Hussein’s military and liberate Kuwait.

The day was well spent learning more about Kuwait’s fight for liberation against a powerful, aggressive neighbor. As always, the Kuwaiti hosts demonstrated the warm hospitality which is a defining characteristic of Arab culture.

“We gained a deeper understanding for the valiant struggle of the Kuwaitis during their fight for liberation. The ferocity and determination the Kuwaiti Armed Forces and grassroots resistance movement fought with against the overwhelming numbers of the invading Iraqi forces was eye-opening,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Colin Fleming, Task Force Spartan and 34th Red Bull Infantry Division staff officer, leading the U.S. group.

Fleming continued, “The Kuwaitis are gracious hosts, fierce warriors, valued allies and friends. During this time of regional turbulence and an ever-shifting future, we are proud to stand with the people of Kuwait during their National and Liberation Days; and we look toward a bright future, together.”

More than 500 Red Bulls are currently deployed to the Middle East, leading Task Force Spartan. Through Operation Spartan Shield (OSS), Task Force Spartan maintains a U.S. military posture in Southwest Asia sufficient to strengthen our defense relationships and build partner capacity. Units supporting OSS provide capabilities such as aviation, logistics, force protection, and information management, and facilitate theater security cooperation activities such as key leader engagements, joint exercises, conferences, symposia and humanitarian assistance/disaster response planning.