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1990 - Gulf War

Gulf War - following the Iraqi invasion and occupation of neighboring Kuwait, US-led coaltion forces launch Operation Desert Storm, a massive air and ground offensive to repel the invaders

On 2 August 1990 Iraq invaded its neighbour Kuwait after talks on oil production and debt repayment collapsed. Kuwait had originally been part of the Ottoman province of Iraq, but was detached by the British after the First World War.

Iraq had never recognised Kuwait's independence. Iraqi president Saddam Hussein annexed it and declared Kuwait the 19th province of the nation.

The western powers feared that Iraq would also invade Saudi Arabia and take control of the region's oil supplies. After the United Nations (UN) Security Council imposed economic sanctions against Iraq, US President George Bush called for the creation of a multi-national force to deal with Saddam.

President Bush also ordered US troops to protect Saudi Arabia. Operation Desert Shield began with the arrival of 230,000 Americans in Saudi Arabia to take defensive action.

After the Iraqis continued their military build-up in Kuwait, Bush ordered an additional 200,000 troops deployed to prepare for offensive action. On 8 November he obtained a UN Security Council resolution setting a 15 January 1991 deadline for Iraq to withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait.

Saddam Hussein refused to withdraw from Kuwait and the UN deadline passed on 15 January 1991. The next day a devastating air assault was launched against military, economic and communication targets in Iraq and Kuwait.

The effect of the air campaign was to decimate entire Iraqi divisions that were deployed in the open desert. The air campaign also stopped the Iraqis re-supplying their forward units.

When the ground offensive, Desert Sabre, began on 24 February 1991, the Iraqis were expecting a frontal assault from the south. In fact, the main coalition effort was a wide left flanking attack by forces including 1st Armoured Division. For the cost of 10 men killed, 1st Armoured Division advanced 290km (180 miles) in 66 hours, destroyed the equivalent of three Iraqi armoured divisions and took 7,000 prisoners.

Once the allied flanking movement had penetrated deep into Iraqi territory, they turned east, launching a massive attack against the Republican Guard. Tank battles flared as the Guard attempted to retreat. The coalition won with minimal losses.

As the flank attack took place, coalition soldiers penetrated deep into Kuwait, collecting thousands of deserting Iraqi troops, demoralized by the air campaign. A few days into the campaign, Kuwait City was recaptured on 26 February. As they retreated, the Iraqi army set fire to over 500 oil wells as a final act of destruction.

President Bush declared a ceasefire and on 27 February 1991 informed the world that Kuwait was liberated. On 3 March Iraq agreed to abide by all of the UN resolutions and peace was finally signed on 6 April.

After the outbreak of war, the Iraqis fired scud missiles at Israel in the hopes of drawing it into the war and forcing Arab countries to break with the Americans.

Coalition air strikes were launched against missile sites, but British and American Special Forces were also covertly inserted into western Iraq to aid in the destruction of scuds. However, the lack of adequate terrain for concealment hindered their operations and many of them were killed or captured.

During the conflict there was a constant fear that Saddam Hussein would use his stockpile of chemical weapons against coalition troops. Although this did not occur there were many false alarms. The wearing of NBC suits in hot desert conditions was especially uncomfortable.

Although some felt that the US should have pursued the war until Saddam Hussein was overthrown, this was not the purpose of the UN mandate. However, the US had called for popular uprisings against the Baghdad government. These were crushed due to the lack of western support.

The US belatedly responded to international pressure and established air-patrolled safe havens in northern Iraq for the Kurds and southern Iraq for the Shia population.

The cease-fire agreement required Iraq to end its programs for weapons-of-mass-destruction, recognize Kuwait and return Kuwaiti property. For 12 years Saddam Hussein continued to defy UN resolutions and arms inspections, leading the US government of George W. Bush to again invade Iraq in 2003.

During the campaign 345 coalition troops were killed and 1000 wounded. Iraqi casualty figures are not known, but number at least 30,000. Some estimates are as high as 100,000. The huge difference in casualties was due to massive coalition air superiority and technological advantages.


Further Reading

Wikipedia - Persian Gulf War

The Atlantic - Operation Desert Storm

Al Jazeera - The Enduring Legacy of Operation Desert Storm

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Nelson Mandela freed - the leader of the movement to end South African apartheid, is released from prison after 27 years, paving the way for a new era in South Africa

In 1944, Mandela, a lawyer, joined the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest black political organization in South Africa, where he became a leader of Johannesburg’s youth wing of the ANC. In 1952, he became deputy national president of the ANC, advocating nonviolent resistance to apartheid–South Africa’s institutionalized system of white supremacy and racial segregation.


However, after the massacre of peaceful black demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, Nelson helped organize a paramilitary branch of the ANC to engage in guerrilla warfare against the white minority government.

In 1961, he was arrested for treason, and although acquitted he was arrested again in 1962 for illegally leaving the country. Convicted and sentenced to five years at Robben Island Prison, he was put on trial again in 1964 on charges of sabotage. In June 1964, he was convicted along with several other ANC leaders and sentenced to life in prison.

Mandela spent the first 18 of his 27 years in jail at the brutal Robben Island Prison. Confined to a small cell without a bed or plumbing, he was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. He could write and receive a letter once every six months, and once a year he was allowed to meet with a visitor for 30 minutes. However, Mandela’s resolve remained unbroken, and while remaining the symbolic leader of the anti-apartheid movement, he led a movement of civil disobedience at the prison that coerced South African officials into drastically improving conditions on Robben Island. He was later moved to another location, where he lived under house arrest.

In 1989, F.W. de Klerk became South African president and set about dismantling apartheid. De Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC, suspended executions, and in February 1990 ordered the release of Nelson Mandela.

Mandela subsequently led the ANC in its negotiations with the minority government for an end to apartheid and the establishment of a multiracial government. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One year later, the ANC won an electoral majority in the country’s first free elections, and Mandela was elected South Africa’s president.

Mandela retired from politics in 1999, but remained a global advocate for peace and social justice until his death in December 2013.


Further Reading


NPR - The Day Nelson Mandela Walked Out Of Prison

SAHA - Mandela’s Frst Year of Freedom: His Words From 1990

The Guardian Why FW de Klerk Let Nelson Mandela Out of Prison

The Guardian Nelson Mandela: Life in Pictures

Magnum Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom

1990 - Mandela freed
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