Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf D+16 (25 July, 1987) Part II

Iraqi forces remained in Kuwait. Despite the Iraqi government’s assurances that this would not be the case for very long, initial indications revealed otherwise. The heavy Republican Guard divisions departing Kuwait to counter the Iranian buildup opposite Iraq’s southeastern border were in the process of being replaced by less-capable Iraqi Army formations. This was not an action which one would expect to foreshadow a permanent departure of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, and a restoration of the emirate’s sovereignty. Kuwait’s neighbors took note of this almost at once and were alarmed. The same was true of the United States and its concern was especially palpable given Kuwait’s vast oil reserves. Added to this was the growing realization that American guidance would be essential in the Persian Gulf area during the immediate post-war period in order to assure stability. Iraq’s control of Kuwait was a roadblock on the road to achieving that goal, and something the US had to contend with sooner or later. In short, Iraqi occupation of Kuwait presented the United States with a squishy problem.

Policymakers in Washington were only now starting to realize this. Questions were being asked about Iraq’s intentions for the near future, and what steps the US could take to forcibly eject Saddam’s troops from Kuwait should it become necessary. The answer to the first query was, “Nothing good,” while the second elicited a reluctant yet accurate, “Not Much.”  CENTCOM was examining possible scenarios for a Kuwait operation and continuously drawing the same conclusion. There were presently not enough US ground forces in Saudi Arabia to retake Kuwait from Iraq. Essentially there were two divisions on hand. The 7th Marine Amphibious Brigade, which was essentially a self-contained division despite its name, and the 82nd Airborne Division. These units had to be reinforced before a move into Kuwait could even be considered.

The issue here was that there was a lack of available reinforcements. The 101st Airborne Division was available, but would be of little use against Iraqi armor, even the older T-55 and T-62s. More than any other land force asset, additional heavy maneuver forces were needed. Unfortunately, the single US Army heavy division assigned to CENTCOM had been reappropriated to NATO. The convoy carrying the equipment and troops of the 24th Infantry Division (Mech) was rerouted and expected to arrive in France by D+19. The US Marines had little to contribute for the foreseeable future. The bulk of its divisions and MABs were committed to other theaters. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States would undoubtedly contribute their own forces to an effort, however, the quality of these troops was questionable. For the time being, Saudi and Gulf Cooperation Council forces would bring more value by establishing defensive postures to help defend the Saudi oilfields and Persian Gulf ports.

It was clear that the lack of available forces outside of the theater was going to handicap the US desire to deal effectively with Iraqi forces squatting in Kuwait, and the larger problem of Saddam Hussein. Iraq was a problem to be dealt with, but a post-war problem.

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