A memorable study of a transformative battle, now largely “condemned to the dustbin of history.”
Former Marine officer and debut author Morris, who entered the service shortly after Gulf War I ended, offers a vivid account of the Battle of Khafji, when, in a scarcely imaginable act of hubris, Saddam Hussein sent three armored and mechanized army divisions into Saudi Arabia. The battle, which began nearly a month before Operation Desert Storm sent Americans into Iraq, lasted only three days. Yet it afforded plenty of opportunities for the fog of war to enshroud American forces; no contingency plan having been made for such an invasion, for instance, air traffic controllers did not immediately dispatch planes to relieve the coastal sector’s American and Arab Coalition defenders, so that “the greatest air force in the history of warfare was sitting idle while Marines battled Iraqi main battle tanks with rifles.” Once the communications snafus were cleared up, American planes did take to the skies—and quickly inflicted heavy losses on their own men. At the same time, American units that had been caught unaware had to avoid being cut to pieces in the crossfire between their comrades and allies and the oncoming Iraqi forces. All in a day’s work, Morris remarks: “The gods of war roll the dice, and the dumb grunts in the middle of it get to sort it out.” The battle soon turned, and, writes Morris, “American forces and their allies saw up close and for the first time the staggering psychological impact of modern precision-guided munitions upon an outmoded Third World army.” Yet the American command failed to learn the obvious lessons from Khafji—namely, that the Iraqis were less tough and less motivated than had been assumed. Had the generals done so, Morris suggests, they might have been emboldened to crush the vaunted Republican Guards the first time around “and thus taken away Saddam’s main instrument for survival,” which presumably would have made Gulf War II unnecessary.
Lucid and well-written; a worthy companion to Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead (Mar. 2003).