By MSG Wm. A. "Congo" Easterling
On the second of August 1990, the
Iraqi military invaded Kuwait. The drive swept through
Kuwait City and pushed the Kuwaiti Army all the way
into Saudi Arabia. The United States started deploying
units into Saudi Arabia on what was called Operation
3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne)
had three teams deploy almost immediately, along with
the 5th SFG(A), into Saudi Arabia to work primarily
as liaison between the US VII Corps units and the
Special Operations Central Command (SOCCENT).
3rd SFG(A) was still being filled
as a new Special Forces Group and at the time consisted
of a group headquarters and one battalion, the 1st
BN. Our unit was first notified that the remainder
we would deploy to Saudi around September, 90. 5th
SFG(A), which was on the ground and working with SOCCENT
had determined the Special Operations element could
use another battalion of SF-ODAs and another headquarters
element for missions and planning.
This first notification was soon
followed by the message that the rest of 3rd Group
would not deploy, at least not yet. This on-again,
off-again notification continued and switched about
every 2 to 3 weeks. Our BN had many other peacetime
operations that were being conducted and demanded
the concentration of our people, so these training
missions were given priority over the possibility
of deploying to Saudi anytime soon.
It was our opinion that the training we were conducting,
no matter what it was, would help prepare us, as a
unit, for any combat mission we might get if we did
We were a new group, but the majority
of the personnel at the team level and in command
were experienced Special Forces soldiers. Also most
of us had been together as a unit for a long time
already as members of the 3d BN, 5th SFG(A). It was
that unit which was used as the nucleus when 3rd SFG(A)
was brought on line in June of 1990. Because of this,
the majority of the personnel were highly trained
in various combat and survival operations in a desert
As the Christmas season approached,
we were fairly confident that we would not be leaving
soon, if at all. The commander authorized most of
the BN to take Christmas holiday vacation. That's
when the rumors started that we were to deploy right
away. A few of the key personnel returned early and
began planning for a deployment to Saudi with the
exact nature of the mission still being an unknown
part of the equation.
As we entered the new year, everyone
now was sure we were going and bags were being packed.
On January 17 1991, we were in the
company having a Team Sergeants and Team leaders meeting
with the Company Commander. During the meeting someone
called and said to turn on the TV or radio. When we
did we saw pictures of Baghdad, Iraq getting bombed
by the coalition Air Forces. No more guessing games,
Operation Desert Storm had begun.
The next few days passed in a maddening
bustle of activity while everyone finished getting
the final things done. Then on 20 January 91, we were
officially alerted that we were to deploy to Saudi
Arabia in support of Desert Storm. The advance party
left Fort Bragg on 24 January and the main body departed
Ft. Bragg on the 27th of January.
Once we arrived in Saudi, we stayed
at the King Fahd International Airport (KFIA). It
was still under construction and had the runways and
some of the buildings completed. The main terminal
had not been completed but 5th SFG(A) was living and
working out of the basement portion.
3rd SFG(A) moved into the second
level of an adjoining parking garage. This is where
we lived, trained and planned our operations for the
next 3 weeks. The training continually changed focus
as our missions were adjusted and narrowed by the
3rd SFG(A) began the operation with
a dual tasking. Our missions were tied into two main
portions of the conflict. First was the mission within
Iraq itself. This was broken down into two sub-missions.
The first being to conduct reconnaissance missions
of the enemy in the US VII Corps sector of Iraq to
determine the Iraqi's intent and provide an early
warning to the VII Corps. The second submission was
to conduct additional reconnaissance missions into
southeastern Iraq to determine whether the terrain
would support movement of the armored vehicles in
the projected area of operations for VII Corps.
The second proposed mission was for
inside the country of Kuwait. This mission statement
basically directed 3rd SFG(A) to prepare to coordinate
with the Kuwaiti Army General Headquarters and establish
a combined Special Operations Headquarters to provide
a connection between units of the Special Operation
Forces, Kuwaiti resistance forces and allied conventional
forces. Also to assist in the clearing and securing
of Kuwait City.
The purpose of the dual missions
was to support the coalition forces Desert Storm plan
for the defense of Saudi Arabia and for the recapture
and restructuring of Kuwait and Kuwait City.
Operation Desert Storm had an annex,
or sub-operation plan that was titled "Operation
Urban Freedom". This OPLAN began implementing
actions that were to be conducted around Kuwait City
to ensure the orderly forward deployment of the Special
Operations Central Command forces. Also this plan
would allow a smooth flow of the coalition forces,
which were primarily U.S. Marines and Kuwaiti forces
into the area to assist in the liberation of Kuwait
The commander's intent was to deploy
SOCCENT forces forward to the vicinity of Kuwait City
as the conventional coalition force secured Kuwait
up to the 6th ring road of Kuwait City. Kuwait City
is surrounded by circular roads that encompass the
city center which is bordered by the gulf on the east
and north edges.
Once the conventional forces had
cleared up to the 6th Ring Road, a joint task force
composed of Kuwaiti forces and the SOCCENT forces
were to clear and secure the city.
The U.S. task force personnel would
assist and advise the Kuwaiti forces throughout the
liberation of Kuwait City and would occupy the U.S.
Embassy in a coordinated effort to occupy several
embassies simultaneously, by different country's Special
Specific 3rd SFG(A) missions that
were proposed in support of the mission in Iraq included:
Direct Action missions; Rear area
lines of communication, Main supply routes, command
and control facilities, and mobile targets not easily
destroyed by air assets.
Strategic Reconnaissance missions;
Hidden airfields, high value enemy strategic targets,
command and control nodes, and early warning.
Combat Search and Rescue missions,
Primarily in southern Iraq.
Foreign Internal Defense missions,
In Saudi Arabia.
Specific 3rd SFG(A) missions in support
of the mission in Kuwait and Kuwait City included:
On order, forward deploy forces to
Kuwait International Airport and establish a forward
Be prepared to link up with resistance
forces to conduct combined operations.
Be prepared to assist resistance
in utilization of Close Air Support, (CAS).
Be prepared to support link up of
resistance forces with coalition forces.
Be prepared to secure designated
key facilities in Kuwait City in coordination with
Coalition and/or U.S. forces.
Be prepared to assist in the conduct
of Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations beyond
the capabilities of other forces.
Be prepared to conduct Combat Search
Be prepared to accept operational
control of a Kuwaiti Special Forces Battalion.
On order, secure and occupy the U.S.
Embassy in Kuwait City.
And, on order, assume command, less
OPCON, of 4/17 Cavalry.
These were all the scenarios and
missions the commander of Special Operations Central
Command had envisioned could be given to the 3rd SFG(A).
This is what we began to prepare and plan for during
the initial few days after arriving in Saudi.
The highlights are now covered on
what the 3rd SFG(A) actually conducted once the missions
The 3rd SFG(A) conducted the initial
two missions, however the focus was narrowed quite
a bit. First the Reconnaissance teams went deep behind
enemy lines inside Iraq. This was in support of the
US VII Corps. The Reconnaissance teams' missions were
two-fold. First they were to find the Iraqi Republican
Guard Army and their respective divisions. Secondly,
when the attack kicked off in February, they were
to determine whether the Republican Guards Divisions
were going to come south and meet the VII Corps attack,
if they were going to head west to Baghdad, or whether
they were going to remain in position.
The second mission, inside Kuwait,
was also narrowed considerably. This mission was restated
directing 3rd SFG(A) to seize, clear, and hold the
U.S. Embassy until relieved.
To accomplish the first mission,
several teams began to experiment with different types
of desert hide sites and techniques to remain hidden.
Due to the variance of terrain many ideas were tested.
Some of these included using plastic pipe covered
by various types of cloth material, sandbags, digging
holes, and hiding in whatever terrain was available.
Three teams actually went inside
Iraq. Two teams stayed until their mission was complete
and one had to be extracted almost immediately due
to an enemy tank unit in the area. There was no loss
of personnel or equipment on these missions. They
were infilled and exfilled by helicopters that came
from either US Army or Air Force Special Operations
The mission in Kuwait City began
with the Commander, LTC Frank J. Toney reorganizing
the battalion into a special task force. He divided
the three companies of the battalion into an assault
force, a security force, and a support force. There
was very little time to get ready. We had less than
1 week from receipt of the mission to receive required
intelligence, develop an assault plan, conduct rehearsals
and then, actually launch on the mission.
The rehearsals took place at King
Fahd International Airport area. Then the unit moved
by helicopter to the Kuwait International Airport
(KIA). When the force landed at KIA there was little
to no resistance. The force stayed at KIA for the
night, then launched for the US embassy by wheel and
helicopter the next morning. This was 28 February
1991. The US embassy was cleared, and then was turned
over to the U.S. ambassador on the next day.
During this portion of the operation,
the lack of accurate and timely intelligence was a
major concern of the force. We had been told to expect
to find anything from a reinforced mechanized infantry
company with chemical and conventional munitions,
to finding no threat at all. Because of this, the
task force went in wearing chemical protective suits
that were very hot and could easily have created heat
injuries. The leaders were aware of this but were
trying to protect their soldiers by lowering the number
of possible casualties for any situation. Also the
water, ammunition, and anti-tank weapons the men were
carrying created a rucksack that weighed more than
120 pounds or 55-60 KG and a combat vest weighing
around 70 pounds or 30 KG. Everyone was also wearing
flak jackets or body armor, helmets, and carrying
protective masks. This made the individual soldier's
load very heavy and would have been very difficult
to maneuver with had the enemy chose to fight.
Due to smoke from the oil wells that
were burning all around Kuwait, visibility was extremely
limited. The wind shifted after the US Embassy had
been entered and within an hour it was dark as midnight,
even though it was still midday. This made the job
of securing the Embassy slightly more challenging
and the shadows created problems where there should
not have been any. The embassy compound was not defended
nor had it any enemy troops inside. Reports received
about booby traps, left from both the Iraqi's and
the US personnel as they evacuated the embassy, coupled
with the urgency for speed in clearing the facilities,
created an environment that allowed some demolition
and searching operations to take place that caused
significant damage to portions of the compound. However,
the commander said he needed to be sure it was safe
for embassy personnel to return. Upon completion of
the securing of the embassy, our mission shifted to
embassy guard and VIP security. At the same time we
began planning for reestablishing some kind of order
in Kuwait City.
As most people know, the ground war
only lasted a "magic" 100 hours, or 4 days.
This was not expected or planned for and there were
no plans conceived yet for the reorganization and
rebuilding of the infrastructure of Kuwait City.
We had several challenges, even though
it wasn't part of our Mission Essential Task List
(METL), or part of our directed mission. Suddenly
we needed to get water and electricity back into the
embassy and to help make possible the eventual return
of these products to the entire city. We maintained
and helped control food lines and attempted to ensure
human rights violations didn't occur. Several times,
teams were sent to police stations to prevent or stop
atrocities that were being committed against suspected
Iraqi stay behinds, sympathizers, and Palestinians.
Palestinians composed the major part of the work force
in Kuwait and many belonged to or were sympathetic
with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO),
but the majority of them were still loyal to Kuwait
or at least were not supportive of what the Iraqi
Army had done. Many Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD)
missions were performed on stockpiles of ammo, booby
traps, and land mines. This was compounded by the
massive amounts of unexploded air ordinance left from
the intensive bombings prior to the ground war that
was literally scattered everywhere.
The Commander once again broke the
battalion down by company and gave the mission of
guarding the embassy and providing VIP security to
B Company, he gave the Eastern area command to A Company
and the Northern area command to C Company. The Northern
area command included the mission of sending one Operational
Detachment-Alpha (ODA) north of Kuwait City near the
border, to work with a Kuwaiti armor brigade. This
unit was right in the middle of US VII Corps armor
units. Deconflicting the problems between the Kuwaiti
unit and the US unit was an ongoing problem for the
Detachment Commander. The main problems came from
the conventional officers not being fully aware of
the customs and cultural differences. Also since the
Kuwaiti Commander kept crossing into disputed territory
or would maneuver his unit into the US element's area
of operations in pursuit of Iraqis, suspected or otherwise,
matters were not made any easier.
The other teams in C Company and
the ones in A Company set up headquarters elements
alongside their Kuwaiti counterparts at the division
level and sent teams to Kuwaiti military and police
outposts throughout the city. Once deployed, they
continued to help organize a system of control and
perform Explosive Ordinance Disposal and quick reaction
force missions. As munitions caches were found, or
small attacks via sniping or drive by shootings would
occur, we responded along side our assigned Kuwaiti
units. During the first week after securing the embassy
and these other operations had begun, we conducted
numerous Direct Action and information collection
missions throughout the city. Some of these missions
included the following:
The Kuwaiti government experimental
farm, used as a major Iraqi interrogation and torture
center. War crime evidence was gathered and preserved.
The Al Shaab Palace, Iraqi interrogation
and torture center.
The Sief Palace, Iraqi interrogation
and torture center. It produced major war crime evidence.
The Muk Harbaratt HQ's, it was utilized
as the Iraqi command and control HQ's for Iraqi intelligence
soldiers. It produced critical information on their
military operations and war crime evidence.
Several police stations, used by
Iraqis as interrogation and torture centers.
The Kuwaiti women's prison was used
as an interrogation and torture center. It produced
war crime evidence and documentation.
PLO HQ's, it provided information
on command and control of terrorists and military
organizations that were loyal to the Iraqis and supported
them during the occupation of Kuwait City. It also
produced plans, terrain models, names, passports and
Counter-intelligence (CI) documentation.
The ice skating rink, it was used
by Iraqis as a morgue. It provided information and
bodies bearing evidence of the torture techniques
the Iraqis used.
All colleges and university dormitories
and classrooms were used as living and working areas
by Iraqis. They produced many documents, weapons and
Hotels and residences, used as working
and living spaces by Iraqis. Many of the hotels were
burnt down. These produced some documentation, weapons
Beach trench and bunker complexes
produced many anti-aircraft and artillery weapons,
small arms and ammo. This entire area was extensively
mined and contained some booby traps.
As we started to bring the city under
control, we were assisting the Kuwaitis more and conducting
missions less. We were prepared to stay in Kuwait
City for 3 to 6 months and continue with the stabilization
mission. Then abruptly on 12 April 91, to the surprise
of our commander and our Kuwaiti counterparts, we
were ordered to redeploy to the United States. 5th
SFG(A) then stepped in and assisted the Kuwaitis we
had been working with. The 5th SFG(A) still maintains
an element in Kuwait City to this day. On the 26th
of April the main body of the 3rd SFG(A) returned
to the United States.
This story has not been all-inclusive,
but it contains all of the major documented missions
that were performed by the 3rd Special Forces Group
(Airborne) during Operation Desert Storm.
Thanks to General Toney and many
other soldiers of the unit for information I collected
from your written interviews and after action reports.
Thanks also to the JFK historical records section
where I found most of the documents I used while preparing