As preparations for the night’s air operations continued at CENTCOM-Forward in Riyadh, General George Crist’s thoughts were on Kuwait. The tiny emirate was now occupied by Iraqi forces of lesser quality than the Republican Guard formations that stormed the country days earlier. Those divisions were now positioning near Basra with the mission of blocking an Iranian thrust west into interior Iraq or southwest into Kuwait. And that was Crist’s greatest concern at the moment. The possibility of Kuwait turning into the prize for both Tehran and Baghdad.
Crist did not have sufficient combat power on the ground to boot the Iraqi army out of Kuwait and this did not seem likely to change in the coming days and weeks. CENTCOM’s cupboard, as the saying went, was quite bare. The 24th Infantry Division, originally tagged to be CENTCOM’s heavy maneuver division had been poached and was heading across the Atlantic on its way to Europe. The 101st Airborne Division was serving along the lines of a strategic reserve for the entire US Army for the time being. With the Soviet attack in Germany apparently halted, Crist was trying to get the Pentagon to loosen its grip on the Screaming Eagles and send them his way.
Right now, offensive operations were not possible with what he had on hand. The 82nd Airborne Division was now entirely deployed to Saudi Arabia. Two brigades were at Dhahran and the third was deployed along the Kuwait/Saudi border in the Khafji area. To the brigade’s left was the 7th MAB, a reinforced US Marine brigade with a considerable amount of firepower at its disposal. If the Iraqis came south into Saudi Arabia, Crist could stop them with an airborne division and MAB, supported by Saudi forces and US airpower now in the region. That held true for an Iranian attack too, though he really did not want to see Iranian troops come any farther south than Basra.
CENTAF’s efforts to piece together an acceptable air plan for the night of D+21 into +22 was running into major turbulence. General Chuck Horner, CENTCOM’s air commander, was short on aircraft. Specifically, ground attack aircraft that could find suspected SCUD launch sites in western Iraq in darkness. F-111s and A-6 Intruders were tailormade for this mission. Unfortunately, for the Intruders to reach western Iraq and have enough fuel remaining to loiter, the USS. Constellation would probably have to move into the upper Red Sea. The nearest F-111s were in Turkey but there was no way NATO would part with any of them now. As for the quartet of B-52 bombers now sitting at Diego Garcia, those aircraft were configured for the nuclear role.
This left Horner primarily with F-16s and A-10s to use. Good birds, but with short legs and a limited ability to fly and fight at night. The small number of LANTIRN pods now available would limit the number of sorties flown, placing restrictions on the targeting list and air tasking order entirely. However, the one advantage Horner and his planners had was an unlimited supply of creativity and ingenuity. It took some time and more than one revision but by 2000 the finalized version of the ATO had been finalized and was ready for distribution. The first air attacks would commence at 0245 the following morning.
Author’s Note: Just a short update. The blog posts will continue on even if hostilities break out in Ukraine at some point in the coming days. I will put a post up tomorrow explaining the plan and as always, will appreciate input. Hope everyone’s having a great weekend. – Mike