Desert
 

M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks of the 3rd Armored Division move out on a mission during Operation Desert Storm. (PHC D. W. Holmes II, US Navy)

 

Deception in the Desert

Deceiving Iraq in Operation DESERT STORM

Donald P. Wright

Operation DESERT STORM remains one of the shortest and least costly of America’s military victories. The Coalition campaign that began in January 1991 opened with five weeks of air strikes that attacked both strategic targets and tactical units. With Iraqi forces reeling from the air campaign, the ground offensive began on 24 February and in less than 100 hours, dislodged Iraqi forces from Kuwait and compelled Saddam Hussein to capitulate. The victory came at the cost of less than 250 lives on the Coalition side.

The success of Operation DESERT STORM was founded on the decisive advantage in training, armament, and leadership held by US air and ground forces. Equally important, however, was the way in which senior Coalition commanders employed these advantages against the Iraqi Army. The plan for the ground campaign featured a broad Coalition attack on Iraqi units in Kuwait that fixed them in position. At the same time, mobile and lethal armored forces enveloped the Iraqi Army from the west, by driving deep into southern Iraq, aiming for the Iraqi Republican Guard divisions, Saddam’s Hussein’s strategic reserve and Praetorian Guard. This envelopment proved to be the devastating blow that forced the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait and into a headlong retreat northward into Iraq.

Deception played a key role in the way this plan developed. Given the size, capability, and deployment of the Iraqi Army, deceiving the Iraqi chain of command at both the operational and tactical levels became critical to Coalition commanders. This chapter examines the development and implementation of the Coalition deception plan, including the plan’s objectives, the ways and means used to achieve these goals, and the degree to which the plan succeeded in misleading Iraqi commanders.

Operation Desert Shield—Defending Saudi Arabia

On 2 August 1990, Iraqi military forces attacked Kuwait and quickly took control of the small state on the Persian Gulf. As justification for the invasion, Saddam Hussein claimed that Kuwait was historically a province of Iraq, a dubious assertion at best. In reality, after the long and expensive war against Iran left Iraq with large debts, Saddam was far more interested in debt forgiveness from his allied neighbors or control over Kuwait’s large oil reserves that would provide an infusion of much-needed capital. In a matter of days, Iraqi forces not only seized Kuwait but took position on the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, posing a clear threat to the Saudi oil fields. The Saudi king requested international support on 6 August and a global coalition led by the United States immediately answered the call.

Within three days US Air Force aircraft took position just behind the Saudi-Kuwaiti border and a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division secured key military sites inside Saudi Arabia. Over the next two months, US ground forces continued to flow into the country and pushed out toward the Kuwaiti border to join Saudi units in defensive positions oriented against a possible Iraqi attack. By the end of September, the rest of the 82nd Airborne Division had arrived along with the other main elements of the XVIII Airborne Corps—101st Airborne Division, the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment—as well as the 1st Marine Division. A significant amount of air power provided by the Saudi Air Force, US Air Force, and US Navy complemented the expanding ground defenses. The US Navy had also positioned a US Marine amphibious force consisting of the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in the Persian Gulf just off the Kuwaiti coast.

The defense of Saudi Arabia, called Operation Desert Shield, quickly became a multi-national effort. Egypt, Syria, France, and the United Kingdom joined the Coalition and began sending forces to Saudi Arabia in the fall of 1990. By the end of October, Coalition partners had deployed over 200,000 troops to Desert Shield—130,000 of which were American.1 Central Command (CENTCOM), led by US Army General Norman H. Schwarzkopf, served as the overall theater headquarters for the campaign. Most US ground forces fell under the XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters and occupied positions behind the Saudi and Arab partner units on the front lines along the Kuwaiti border. However, CENTCOM maintained amphibious forces afloat, expanding in October the number of Marine units prepared to conduct operations along the Kuwaiti and Iraqi coastline.

On the other side of the border, Iraqi forces had consolidated into a defensive posture. Iraqi records seized in 2003 show little evidence that the senior Iraqi leadership had serious intent to invade Saudi Arabia in 1990.2 However, Saddam Hussein remained determined to retain his hold on Kuwait and, in August, began deploying more forces along the Kuwaiti-Saudi border. By late September, twenty Iraqi divisions occupied Kuwait. Nine of these divisions deployed along the Saudi frontier where they constructed complex defenses comprised of dug-in positions protected by minefields.3 Mobile mechanized forces, armed with modern weaponry and capable of mounting counter-attacks against Coalition attacks, backed up the front-line divisions. To counter a Coalition amphibious landing, the Iraqi military command placed several infantry divisions along the Kuwaiti coast. As his reserve, Saddam positioned the Republican Guard Forces Command, a corps of eight elite divisions, in southeastern Iraq just north of the Kuwaiti border. In early October, the total Iraqi force in Kuwait and southeastern Iraq numbered approximately 430,000.4

The Shift to the Offensive

In mid-September 1990, when it appeared that Saddam Hussein no longer posed a threat to Saudi Arabia, CENTCOM began planning for offensive operations designed to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait.5 The planning process sped up in the month that followed as it became clear that peaceful means would not secure an Iraqi withdrawal. In October, General Schwarzkopf’s planners initially conceived of an air-land offensive that relied on the forces immediately available in Saudi Arabia and the region. For the land operation, this meant the XVIII Airborne Corps, the recently arrived 1st Cavalry Division, the 1st Marine Division, and Arab, British, and French forces. The early versions of the plan offered a straightforward concept: after an air offensive destroyed command networks as well as other strategic targets and attrited Iraq’s ground units, Coalition forces would attack along three axes directly into Kuwait.6 The main effort would attempt to outflank the strongest Iraqi defensive positions by attacking up the Wadi al Batin, a dry streambed that formed the western Iraqi-Kuwaiti border and had served repeatedly as an invasion route between the Arabian Peninsula and Mesopotamia. This main force would drive north up the wadi toward Kuwait’s northern border, cutting off Iraqi forces in the southern part of Kuwait. Because much of the combat power in the plan came from XVIII Airborne Corps, this became known as the “One Corps” concept.

However, no one at CENTCOM was satisfied with this plan. In the eight years of war against the Iranians, Iraqi military leaders had successfully learned how to plan and conduct defenses in depth. Moreover, by October 1990, it was clear to Coalition commanders that Iraqi positions in Kuwait were complex and manned by a force roughly equal in size to the one they had available for the ground offensive. Even if the air campaign succeeded in wearing down Iraqi combat power in Kuwait, the ground campaign would still likely face staunch resistance. After the war, Schwarzkopf described the “One Corps” concept as a “straight-up-the-middle charge right into the teeth of the Iraqi defenses” that lacked any element of surprise and would likely incur “substantial” Coalition casualties, threatening popular support at home.7

On 11 October, the CENTCOM staff briefed this plan to President George H. W. Bush and his national security staff. Neither Bush nor his advisors were comfortable with the “One Corps” concept and encouraged Schwarzkopf to be more imaginative. Four days later, the CENTCOM commander told his planners to develop a new concept for the offensive that included a second US Army armored corps. Schwarzkopf’s new vision featured a bold envelopment of Iraqi forces from west of the Kuwait border. The Iraqi Army had arrayed its defenses along Kuwait’s east coast and its southern border. But the Iraqi defensive line terminated just west of the Wadi al Batin and there were no forces along Kuwait’s western border. This defensive scheme presented a right flank vulnerable to the type of envelopment Schwarzkopf had envisioned.

The new CENTCOM plan—labeled the “Two Corps” concept—took advantage of the open Iraqi flank. First, a supporting attack by the XVIII Airborne Corps, US Marines, and other Coalition units would drive directly into Kuwait to seize Kuwait City, an action that would effectively fix Iraqi forces. In what eventually became known as the “Left Hook,” the newly-added armored corps would then move quickly north from its attack positions west of the Kuwaiti border (on the Coalition left flank) into Iraq and strike deep to the Euphrates River thereby cutting off Iraqi forces in Kuwait. Then the corps would attack east toward to destroy the Republican Guard Force Command, their main objective, located on Kuwait’s northern border.8 On 8 November, President Bush formally ordered the US Army’s VII Corps, consisting of two armored divisions, a mechanized infantry division, and an armored cavalry regiment, to deploy from Germany to Saudi Arabia. Schwarzkopf would soon have the two corps that made his plan of envelopment a reality.

As November progressed, however, concerns in CENTCOM grew about the forces required to attain both objectives of the envelopment: cutting off Iraqi forces in Kuwait and destroying the Republican Guard Forces Command. To address this, CENTCOM strengthened the “Left Hook” by adding the XVIII Airborne Corps to it. The four divisions in this corps would now serve as the western-most elements of the envelopment and strike deep toward the city of An Nasiriyah. The VII Corps would also receive reinforcement in the form of the British 1st Armoured Division, giving the corps a total strength of three armored divisions, a mechanized infantry division, and an armored cavalry regiment. Additionally, to make an amphibious landing in Kuwait more feasible, Schwarzkopf added the 5th MEB to the Marine forces afloat.

The new “Two Corps” concept—with the envelopment force as the new main effort—drew its viability from the element of surprise. To help guarantee this, the CENTCOM commander and staff began to develop a complex deception plan designed to mask Coalition intent at the operational and tactical levels. From CENTCOM’s perspective, the Coalition effort could not succeed unless the Iraqis had been deceived about the true scheme of the offensive campaign.

The Deception Plan

In the fall of 1990, several doctrinal works provided the foundation for the development of military deception plans. Field Manual (FM) 100-5, Operations (1986), stated that deception was integral to operations and established the optimal characteristics of deception, emphasizing simplicity and believability. Equally important was the manual’s contention that the most effective form of military deception was the exploitation of the enemy’s preconceptions, stating that commanders should try to “convince an opponent to believe what he wants to believe anyway-that his current course of action is correct.”9 Known as Magruder’s Principle, this form of deception is based on the idea that it is far easier to exploit the enemy’s beliefs than to alter those beliefs.10 The most common example used to illustrate Magruder’s Principle is the elaborate plan created by the western Allies during the Second World War to deceive the Germans as to where the invasion of France would actually take place. Hitler and his generals believed strongly that the invasion site would be the Pas de Calais. Accordingly, the Allies created a plan that reinforced this preconception and successfully exploited it to assist the actual landings in Normandy, over 200 miles from the Pas de Calais.

FM 90-2, Battlefield Deception (1988), went into far greater detail on how commanders and staffs develop deception plans. The US Army had not practiced operational deception in large-scale combat operations since the Korean War. Before DESERT STORM, the most recent use of military deception by the US Army as part of Operation JUST CAUSE in 1989. In that operation, Army planners had focused deception at the tactical-level, mainly using repetitive small-unit exercises and movements to lull the Panamanian Defense Forces into a sense of complacency.11 The US Army published FM 90-2 to help revive the US Army’s ability to integrate deception into operations at all levels. The manual offered the maxims of deception including Magruder’s Principle as well as historical cases of successful and unsuccessful deception efforts. FM 90-2 contended that successful battlefield deception rested on three “cornerstones:” Intelligence Support, Integration and Synchronization, and Operational Security.12 Further, FM 90-2 directed planners to identify the main objective of the deception, the target of the operation, and the “story” they would communicate to achieve the objective. CENTCOM employed all these elements in the DESERT STORM deception plan.

The development of the CENTCOM deception plan began on 6 November 1990 when General Schwarzkopf formally approved the “Two Corps” concept. To create the plan, he turned to a special cell in the CENTCOM Plans (J5) staff section.13 Schwarzkopf gave the planners in the cell a simple objective: prevent the Iraqis from learning about the two corps envelopment from the west.14 The best way to do this was to keep the Iraqi focus on Coalition forces just south of Kuwait and afloat in the Persian Gulf to the east.15 Saddam Hussein and his military commanders had to be convinced that Coalition attack would come either from across the border to the south or from the waters to the east. Preferably they should think that the ground invasion would include both an attack north across the Saudi-Kuwaiti border and an amphibious landing from the Persian Gulf. The Iraqi national command should not have any indication of a Coalition invasion of Iraq directly from its western flank. If it worked, this deception plan would prevent the Iraqis from repositioning forces to that open flank, making the envelopment far more likely to secure Coalition objectives swiftly and with relatively few casualties.

Magruder’s Principle served as the foundation for the plan. By November 1990, the Iraqi defensive array in Kuwait served as strong indication of how Saddam Hussein and his generals understood Coalition intent. The Iraqi command had significantly strengthened its defenses on the southern Kuwaiti border as well as on the Persian Gulf Coast. They had deployed several additional infantry divisions just west of Wadi al Batin but had done nothing to protect its open western flank. For the CENTCOM deception cell, the best means to achieve the goal set by Schwarzkopf was to reinforce the Iraqi preconception of the Coalition offensive campaign. To do this, the CENTCOM planners determined that their main target was Saddam Hussein who, in 1990, oversaw all aspects of Iraqi military operations, to include the placement of Iraqi forces in Kuwait and southern Iraq.16 The “story” aimed at the Iraqi leader was simple: Coalition forces deployments, actions, and announcements all indicated a ground offensive featuring amphibious landings from the gulf and attacks from the south toward Kuwait City and up the Wadi al Batin.

In the fall of 1990, several doctrinal works provided the foundation for the development of military deception plans. Field Manual (FM) 100-5, Operations (1986), stated that deception was integral to operations and established the optimal characteristics of deception, emphasizing simplicity and believability. Equally important was the manual’s contention that the most effective form of military deception was the exploitation of the enemy’s preconceptions, stating that commanders should try to “convince an opponent to believe what he wants to believe anyway-that his current course of action is correct.”9 Known as Magruder’s Principle, this form of deception is based on the idea that it is far easier to exploit the enemy’s beliefs than to alter those beliefs.10 The most common example used to illustrate Magruder’s Principle is the elaborate plan created by the western Allies during the Second World War to deceive the Germans as to where the invasion of France would actually take place. Hitler and his generals believed strongly that the invasion site would be the Pas de Calais. Accordingly, the Allies created a plan that reinforced this preconception and successfully exploited it to assist the actual landings in Normandy, over 200 miles from the Pas de Calais.

FM 90-2, Battlefield Deception (1988), went into far greater detail on how commanders and staffs develop deception plans. The US Army had not practiced operational deception in large-scale combat operations since the Korean War. Before DESERT STORM, the most recent use of military deception by the US Army as part of Operation JUST CAUSE in 1989. In that operation, Army planners had focused deception at the tactical-level, mainly using repetitive small-unit exercises and movements to lull the Panamanian Defense Forces into a sense of complacency. 11 The US Army published FM 90-2 to help revive the US Army’s ability to integrate deception into operations at all levels. The manual offered the maxims of deception including Magruder’s Principle as well as historical cases of successful and unsuccessful deception efforts. FM 90-2 contended that successful battlefield deception rested on three “cornerstones:” Intelligence Support, Integration and Synchronization, and Operational Security.12 Further, FM 90-2 directed planners to identify the main objective of the deception, the target of the operation, and the “story” they would communicate to achieve the objective. CENTCOM employed all these elements in the DESERT STORM deception plan.

The development of the CENTCOM deception plan began on 6 November 1990 when General Schwarzkopf formally approved the “Two Corps” concept. To create the plan, he turned to a special cell in the CENTCOM Plans (J5) staff section.13 Schwarzkopf gave the planners in the cell a simple objective: prevent the Iraqis from learning about the two corps envelopment from the west.14 The best way to do this was to keep the Iraqi focus on Coalition forces just south of Kuwait and afloat in the Persian Gulf to the east.15 Saddam Hussein and his military commanders had to be convinced that Coalition attack would come either from across the border to the south or from the waters to the east. Preferably they should think that the ground invasion would include both an attack north across the Saudi-Kuwaiti border and an amphibious landing from the Persian Gulf. The Iraqi national command should not have any indication of a Coalition invasion of Iraq directly from its western flank. If it worked, this deception plan would prevent the Iraqis from repositioning forces to that open flank, making the envelopment far more likely to secure Coalition objectives swiftly and with relatively few casualties.

Magruder’s Principle served as the foundation for the plan. By November 1990, the Iraqi defensive array in Kuwait served as strong indication of how Saddam Hussein and his generals understood Coalition intent. The Iraqi command had significantly strengthened its defenses on the southern Kuwaiti border as well as on the Persian Gulf Coast. They had deployed several additional infantry divisions just west of Wadi al Batin but had done nothing to protect its open western flank. For the CENTCOM deception cell, the best means to achieve the goal set by Schwarzkopf was to reinforce the Iraqi preconception of the Coalition offensive campaign. To do this, the CENTCOM planners determined that their main target was Saddam Hussein who, in 1990, oversaw all aspects of Iraqi military operations, to include the placement of Iraqi forces in Kuwait and southern Iraq.16 The “story” aimed at the Iraqi leader was simple: Coalition forces deployments, actions, and announcements all indicated a ground offensive featuring amphibious landings from the gulf and attacks from the south toward Kuwait City and up the Wadi al Batin.

The Deception Begins

The most important part of the deception plan involved the disposition and movement of the two US corps that made up the “Left Hook.” The locations of the VII and XVIII Airborne Corps had to support the deception story until the Iraqis were no longer capable of detecting their move to attack positions on the western flank. For this reason, both the XVIII Airborne Corps and VII Corps remained in tactical assembly areas dozens of miles south of the Saudi-Kuwaiti border until after the air campaign began on 17 January 1991. The VII Corps’ assembly area was forty miles south of the Saudi-Kuwait border just east of Wadi al Batin, a location that reinforced the Iraqi presumption of an attack up that streambed into Kuwait. According to the CENTCOM deception plan, early air strikes eliminated specific Iraqi intelligence sensors, including observation posts and radar sites that might have identified the relocation of the two US corps to the western flank. At roughly the same time, Army counterintelligence teams moved into the area near the Saudi town of Hafr al Batin to spread the story of an imminent US attack north up the Wadi al Batin among suspected Iraqi agents.17

On 20 January, after the Coalition had essentially achieved air superiority, the units of the XVIII Airborne Corps started moving west toward their attack position approximately 125 miles west of Wadi al Batin, near the Saudi town of Rafha. Moving mostly at night, by both ground and air, and following strict operational security measures, the corps completed its 300-mile movement on 25 January. The VII Corps delayed its movement west until 15 February, nine days before the scheduled beginning of the ground offensive, for two reasons: its attack position was much closer to its assembly area—approximately forty miles west of Wadi al Batin; and the longer its units remained east of Wadi al Batin, the more the corps reinforced the Iraqi belief that the Coalition planned to attack directly north into Kuwait

Because synchronization of the deception plan across the theater was so important, the CENTCOM deception plan directed several critical actions to occur simultaneously with the movement of the two corps into the attack positions. On the operational level, CENTCOM directed the Marines afloat in the gulf to increase their preparation and rehearsals for an amphibious assault in January and early February. Schwarzkopf had used amphibious exercises in the fall to induce the Iraqi leadership into thinking that an attack would come from the sea. After the air campaign began, he hoped to reinforce this belief. The CENTCOM commander stated that after the air campaign began:

We continued our heavy operations out in the sea because we wanted the Iraqis to continue to believe that we were going to conduct a massive amphibious operation in this area…we wanted him [Saddam Hussein] to concentrate his forces [in Kuwait]—which he did.18

To assist in this effort, CENTCOM allowed the media to cover the Marines as they rehearsed amphibious operations and broadcast stories about those preparations. General Schwarzkopf also made very public visits to Marine Amphibious units on 15 February, a move designed to keep Iraqi attention on the Persian Gulf.19 On 24 February, the first day of the ground offensive, the Marines and Navy mounted an amphibious feint that consisted of the battleship USS Missouri firing on an island just east of Kuwait City and SEAL teams landing on the Kuwaiti coast to detonate explosives simulating the first phase in Coalition amphibious landings.20

CENTCOM integrated and synchronized the deception plan at the tactical-level as well. Two weeks before the ground offensive began, Schwarzkopf’s staff held a deception planning conference and disseminated guidance to lower level units.21 That guidance emphasized the larger objective: reinforce the Iraqi belief that the main attacks would be made directly into Kuwait. To mask the operational shift to the west, the Iraqis had to believe that both the VII Corps and the XVIII Airborne Corps remained in their assembly areas and intended to attack into Kuwait, east of Wadi al Batin. The XVIII Airborne Corps nested its own deception plan under the CENTCOM deception framework. The corps fielded a twelve-person deception cell which had deployed to Saudi Arabia with camouflage decoys, communication emulators, and other equipment. Each of the four divisions in the corps had their own deception teams and equipment. On 13 February, 300 Soldiers, including the deception teams, PSYOPS teams, a signal company, an engineer platoon, a smoke platoon, and an infantry platoon, moved into what were called “deception tactical assembly areas” near the Kuwaiti border. These forces communicated and conducted operations that emulated major XVIII Airborne Corps units. The corps reinforced the deception story by dropping half a million surrender leaflets on Iraqi units to the immediate north of the deception assembly areas and spreading messages in nearby Saudi communities about an impending attack due north.

Ruse-Graphic-02-01.jpg

In the VII Corps Tactical Assembly Area, the deception measures involved combat actions. On 20 January, the Syrian 9th Armored Division began pulling out of its position on the Saudi border just west of Wadi al Batin. The US 1st Cavalry Division, designated as the theater reserve, replaced the Syrians and faced several Iraqi infantry divisions dug in across the border.22 The 1st Cavalry Division’s mission was to attract Iraqi attention, masking the movement of VII Corps to its attack positions. The division’s actions involved aggressive patrolling of the border by ground and air scouts as well as engineer operations consistent with preparations for an attack. Periodically, soldiers of the division fired artillery rounds or anti-tank missiles at Iraqi targets. The activity increased in intensity as the date of the ground offensive approached. On 19 and 20 February, the division commander sent mechanized units across the Iraqi border and up Wadi al Batin to conduct a reconnaissance. Finding Iraqi forces occupying well-prepared and complex defensive positions, the 1st Cavalry units became embroiled in a five hour battle that included artillery strikes and close air support. Throughout this month long period of increased combat, as the XVIII Airborne Corps and VII Corps moved toward their attack positions on the western flank, the Iraqi units in the Wadi al Batin sector remained focused on the 1st Cavalry Division, as intended.

The Ground Offensive and the Deception Plan—An Assessment

Before dawn on 24 February 1991, a brigade from the 101st Airborne Division crossed the Saudi border and air assaulted deep into southern Iraq. The far edge of the “Left Hook” was now moving and the ground offensive was underway. On the western flank, XVIII Airborne Corps units met little enemy resistance and those few Iraqi units they encountered were surprised by the sudden appearance of Coalition forces. So successful was the offensive on this edge of the flank that Schwarzkopf directed VII Corps to attack earlier than planned so that it could keep up with the XVIII Airborne Corps. VII Corps’ divisions attacked from their positions west of Wadi al Batin and met little resistance from an unprepared enemy. As part of that attack, the 1st Cavalry Division executed the last action in the CENTCOM deception plan. As VII Corps began moving across their line of departure, the 1st Cavalry Division mounted a feint north up the Wadi al Batin that included artillery, attack helicopters, and a full brigade assault into Iraqi defensive lines. As the feint culminated 15 kilometers north of the border, VII Corps to the west pushed into Iraqi territory.23

On the eastern flank of the CENTCOM offensive, Arab and US Marine units attacked into the main Iraqi line of defense. They met far more resistance and progress was slower. However by day two of the ground campaign, the Coalition was far ahead of the plan’s timeline. The XVIII Airborne Corps had already seized the highway near the city of An Nasiryah, over 100 miles inside Iraq. By day three, VII Corps turned northeast and began the attack against the divisions of the Republican Guard Forces Command. Marine units in the east reached the outskirts of Kuwait City, taking thousands of Iraqi prisoners and watching as other Iraqi soldiers streamed north toward Iraq and away from the fight. On the fourth day, VII Corps completed its near destruction of the Republican Guard, Arab forces liberated Kuwait City, and the Coalition announced a cease fire. The ground offensive had achieved all of its objectives in less than 100 hours.

To what degree had the CENTCOM deception plan succeeded? Deception planners at several levels devised means of confirming whether their actions were having the desired effect. The CENTCOM planners designated both airborne surveillance (JSTARS), special operations units, and other collectors to monitor Iraqi unit dispositions.24 As the start of the ground campaign approached, the CENTCOM intelligence staff was certain that the Iraqis remained positioned to defend against an amphibious assault and attacks directly into Kuwait. On the tactical-level, the XVIII Airborne Corps deception cell received signals intercepts that verified Iraqi units believed the corps remained located just south of the Kuwaiti border rather than hundreds of miles west on the edge of the Left Hook.25 In the immediate aftermath of the DESERT STORM, Schwarzkopf deemed the deception plan, especially the Marine amphibious threat, a critical success.26 As evidence of the deception plan’s success, many participants in DESERT STORM and analysts of the campaign have pointed to the fact that through 24 February 1991, Saddam Hussein maintained many of his divisions along the Kuwaiti coast, few west of Wadi al Batin, and none on his western flank.27 These dispositions suggested strongly that the Iraqis had not detected the two Coalition corps on the western flank.

Since 2003, assessments of captured Iraqi documents present a more complex story. Those records reveal that beginning in August 1990, Saddam Hussein and his senior Iraqi commanders expected the Coalition to launch a combined air and ground campaign to liberate Kuwait. Further, senior Iraqi officials were unanimous in their assumption that the main Coalition offensive would come on the Kuwaiti border, with a corps-level attack via the Wadi al Batin.28 Concerns about an amphibious landing in Kuwait began in September 1990 with some of the Iraqi leadership expressing alarm as well about possible Coalition airborne operations to the north of Kuwait City.29 By January 1991, Saddam and his advisors were clearly focused on enemy forces to the south of the Kuwaiti border and to the east in the Persian Gulf in expectation of attacks from both these directions.

In that month, however, the Iraqi leadership began to receive reports of US forces moving west. Saddam received a report of this on 23 January 1991 from his Military Intelligence Directorate, known as the GMID, which indicated “a massive movement of hostile forces with helicopters going towards Rafha.”30 The GMID director noted that this report correlated positively with information he was receiving from an Iraqi embassy in an unnamed country. At this point, the GMID interpreted this as an American move to protect their western flank during the coming ground offensive which they maintained would come across the Kuwaiti border.

In early February, the GMID reported more indications of a major concentration of Coalition troops on the western flank. One source reported US troops from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions near the Saudi town of Ar Ar, just west of Rafha. This area was in fact the western edge of the XVIII Airborne Corps attack position. The GMID director sent a memorandum to Saddam’s office several days later which argued that previous assumption about a Coalition amphibious assault was likely a deception.31 This information might have had a bigger impact on Saddam and his senior leaders if they were not also receiving intelligence about the concentration of US armor units near the Wadi al Batin as well as imminent amphibious and airborne assaults in Kuwait, all of which reinforced their presumptive understanding of the Coalition plan.32 Still, in the second week of February, reports from a variety of sources about large contingents of enemy forces on the western flank continued to flow into senior Iraqi headquarters, breeding confusion about Coalition intent.

By 18 February, confusion had given way to clarity. On that day, the GMID sent Saddam’s office a report that offered a generally accurate assessment of the Coalition Left Hook, including a warning that the enveloping force could easily strike deep into Iraq and cut off Iraqi forces in Kuwait.33 Thus a week before the ground offensive was scheduled to begin, Saddam Hussein and his senior commanders had received a clear picture of the Coalition threat on the western flank and an accurate estimate of the intent of those forces. Yet the Iraqis did essentially nothing to counter this danger. As with the attacks at Pearl Harbor and on 9/11, sometimes accurate indicators can be drowned out in a cacophony of false noise.

The captured records do not reveal how Saddam and his senior reacted to this GMID report or what plans might have been discussed to counter the Left Hook. As one analyst of the captured Iraqi documents has noted, by mid-February 1991, Coalition air superiority meant that the Iraqis could not shift ground forces without risking their destruction. Further, the identification of the Left Hook did not dissipate Iraqi concerns about the amphibious threat and the concentration of enemy forces along the Kuwaiti border, as the coalition remained capable of executing all three simultaneously. Iraqi preconceptions about Coalition intent had paralyzed Saddam Hussein’s Army.

The CENTCOM deception plan ultimately proved a success. The use of Magruder’s Principle as the foundation of the plan was the most critical factor in the successful deception. For over five months, CENTCOM’s dispositions and actions reinforced the Iraqi assumption about how the Coalition would try to liberate Kuwait. CENTCOM’s efforts to synchronize the elements of the plan in time and integrate the deception into the operational and tactical levels as well as between ground and maritime services were the reasons why Iraqi preconceptions endured well into February 1991. Clearly, CENTCOM had not been able to prevent the Iraqis from detecting the XVIII Airborne and VII Corps shift to the west. However, in retrospect, that failure was relatively unimportant given Iraqi operational limitations, especially after the Coalition air campaign achieved air superiority. All adversaries have vulnerabilities and good military deception plans take advantage of those weaknesses in order to increase the chance of winning on the battlefield. CENTCOM’s deception plan did just this, strengthening the likelihood of victory by confusing the enemy and preventing him from gaining accurate information about the exact time, place, and scale of the Coalition’s successful effort to liberate Kuwait.


Notes

  1. Richard M. Swain, Lucky War: Third Army in Desert Storm (Fort Leavenworth, KS: US Army Command and General Staff College Press, 1994), 38. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph P. Englehardt, SSI Special Report. Desert Shield and Desert Storm: A Chronology and Troop List (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 1991), 23-25.
  2. Kevin M. Woods, The Mother of All Battles: Saddam Hussein’s Strategic Plan for the Persian Gulf War (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008), 125.
  3. Woods, 139; Frank N. Schubert and Theresa L. Kraus (eds.), The Whirlwind War: The United States Army in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (Washington D.C.: US Army Center of Military History, 1995), 103.
  4. Englehardt, Desert Shield and Desert Storm, 22.
  5. Swain, Lucky War, 76-77. Swain notes that planning for an air offensive began in August 1990.
  6. Schubert and Kraus, The Whirlwind War, 9-10.
  7. Norman H. Schwarzkopf, It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography (New York: Bantam, 1992), 356.
  8. Swain, Lucky War, 92.
  9. US Army, Field Manual 100-5, Operations (Washington DC: 1986), 53.
  10. Office of Research and Development, Central Intelligence Agency, “Deception Maxims: Fact and Folklore” (Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 1981), 5.
  11. Lawrence A. Yates, The U.S. Military Intervention in Panama: Origins, Planning, and Crisis Management June 1987–December 1989 (Washington DC: US Army Center of Military History, 2008), 208.
  12. US Army, Field Manual 90-2, Battlefield Deception (Washington DC: 1988), 1-30 – 1-32.
  13. Lieutenant Colonel Douglas L. Tystad, “The Role of the Media in the Operational Deception Plan for Operation Desert Storm” (Monograph, School of Advanced Military Studies, 1992), 15. This information obtained by author through interview of chief CENTCOM Desert Storm planner.
  14. Richard M. Swain, Lucky War, 89.
  15. Stephen A. Bourque, Jayhawk!: The VII Corps in the Persian Gulf War (Washington DC: US Army Center of Military History, 2002), 31.
  16. Tystad, “The Role of the Media in the Operational Deception Plan for Operation Desert Storm,”16.
  17. Tystad, 20.
  18. General Norman H. Schwarzkopf, CENTCOM News Briefing Transcript, 27 February 1991. Reprinted in Major Charles D. Melson, Evelyn A. Englander, and Captain David A. Dawson (eds.) US Marines in the Persian Gulf, 1990-1991: Anthology and Annotated Bibliography (Washington DC: USMC Histories and Museums Division, 1995), 49.
  19. Tystad, “The Role of the Media in the Operational Deception Plan for Operation Desert Storm,” 31.
  20. Tystad, 22.
  21. The account of XVIII Airborne Corps deception operations in this paragraph is derived from Gary P. Melton, “XVIII Airborne Corps Deception” in James P. Finley (ed.) US Army Military Intelligence History: A Sourcebook (Fort Huachuca, AZ: US Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca, 1995), 345-347. This article was originally published in Military Intelligence October-December 1991, 43-45.
  22. This account of the 1st Cavalry Division’s deception actions is derived from Stephen A. Bourque, Jayhawk!, 141-146.
  23. Bourque, 206.
  24. Tystad, “The Role of the Media in the Operational Deception Plan for Operation Desert Storm,” 22-23.
  25. Gary P. Melton, “XVIII Airborne Corps Deception,” 346.
  26. General Norman H. Schwarzkopf, CENTCOM News Briefing Transcript, 27 February 1991, 51.
  27. See Tystad, “The Role of the Media in the Operational Deception Plan for Operation Desert Storm,” 25.
  28. Kevin M. Woods, The Mother of All Battles, 137.
  29. Woods, 135.
  30. Woods, 188.
  31. Woods, 199.
  32. Woods, 199.
  33. Woods, 207.