As the ground war grew close, the Coalition flew another 2600 sorties. The massive air war continue to take its toll on the Iraqi ground forces. Ally intelligence was now estimating that 1400 tanks, 1200 artillery pieces, and 800 APCs had been destroyed by air attack.
Early in the day the First Team moved farther up the Wadi-al-Batin to the fire trenches and Iraqi fortified positions. About 1030, while TF 2-8 Calvary was moving north to contact with the enemy, one of its M1s (pictured here) struck a mine at the berm. No one was injured, and the tank was quickly repaired. This was the first combat loss for the 1st Cavalry. TF 2-8 continued forward and parried with the enemy, employing frontal assaults. Units were ordered to make no effort to maneuver around the Iraqi positions. They wanted the Iraqis to believe that an attack would come straight at them, just as in Iran/Iraq war.
The 1st Infantry Division, with help from the 42nd Field Artillery Brigade, began "Shoot and Scoot" artillery raids against the 48th Iraqi Infantry Division. These raids continued to G-Day (February 24th, beginning of the Ground War). Each barrage involved 3 to 4 artillery battalions and at least two MLRS units.
The 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment moved out early on the morning of the 16th, on the last leg of its move into attack position. For the next two days the armored armada of VII Corps rolled west across the Saudi desert. They conducted a dress rehearsal of the coming attack as they closed on the directly border.
The 101st Airborne "Screaming Eagles" Division (some of which are pictured here), commanded by Maj. Gen. J. H. Binford Peay III, had been in Saudi Arabia since the early days of "Desert Shield." They were the first American division to fully deploy in Saudi Arabia.
The Screaming Eagles have had a short, but honored, history. The Division was one of two formed at the beginning of World War II by forward-thinking military planners who believed that soldiers could be brought into battle By aircraft. Maj. Gen. William C. Lee, the Father of the American Airborne, became be the 101st Airborne Division's first commander on August 16, 1942. Shortly thereafter he inaugurated the Divisions tradition in one of his first written general orders: "The 101st..." he wrote, "has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny. Let me call your attention to the fact that our badge is the great American eagle. This is a fitting emblem for a division that will crush our enemies by falling upon them like thunderbolt from the skies."
The 101st's first rendezvous was in the flooded fields of Normandy on June 6, 1944 when Division pathfinders were the first Americans to set foot in occupied France. Division's paratroopers and glider soldiers distinguished themselves throughout the remainder of the war in Europe. Over the years, Technology has changed their equipment, but not their role.
Commanding the largest helicopter fleet in the world, Gen. Peay plan to leap frog deep into Iraq to deliver a "thunderbolt from the skies" once again. Using six attack helicopter and five lift helicopter battalions, the airborne assault would establish a Forward Operating Base (FOB), cold named COBRA, 95 miles inside Iraq. The longest airborne assault in military history would require a logistical virtuoso. The 101st planned to supplement the air assault with a logistic train of hundreds of vehicles traveling overland to FOB COBRA.
Task Force CITADEL, commandedby Maj. John McGarrity, was tasked with crossing some 80 miles of enemy held desert. Maj. McGarrity was a student of ancient Middle Eastern history. He remembers stories of a famous 14th century explorer, Ibn Batuta. Legend has it that Ibn crossed the unexplored desert finding a passable track from Baghdad to Mecca. The track was named Dub al Haj (Route of the Pilgrim). To the Major's surprise, interviews with nomads in the area to verified the existence of the ancient route. As luck would have it, the Dub al Haj passed through both TAA CAMPBELL and COBRA. The Screaming Eagles codenamed the ancient route MSR NEWMARKET.
In preparation for this massive assault, the 1st Battalion of the 101st Aviation Attack Squadron (AATK), 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) conducted its second aerial recon in the early morning hours (0100-0351). The Apaches probed deep behind the enemy's lines-150 km into Iraq. The air recon team ventured all the way to FOB COBRA. The Division commanders had apparently chosen an excellent location for the forward operating base. The Apaches detected very little enemy activity in the area.
Back to the Plan
I was still thinking about how close we came to seeing the war end yesterday. The mixed emotions I felt were disappointment and encouragement. I was disappointed in myself for ever doubting. But I was encouraged to see how quickly things can actually change when one has true faith.
When we first heard the news about the decision from the Iraqi Security Council to comply with all United Nations resolutions, including of course the immediate withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait, for a brief moment, our thoughts shifted from the destruction of the Iraqi army to thoughts of going home. But the thoughts didn't last long. As President Bush called it, it was just a "cruel hoax" by Saddam. The Pentagon also says Iraq deliberately staged damage of civilian areas as propaganda. This seems to be the typical tactic of muslims states to gain greater support and sympathy. At the same time, Iraq’s ambassador to U.N., Abdul Amir al-Anbari, said today that Iraq will use weapons of mass destruction if the U.S. bombing continued. We knew he had them and was likely to use them, but it was the first time I had actually heard them threaten to use them.
Since the war was definitely not ending, but rather heating up, our thoughts returned to the "game plan" of defeating Iraqi forces in a ground attack invasion. We had so far been successful in making the Iraqis believe that our plan was simple and predictive: a frontal assault up the Wadi where Marine forces were positioned, and a Marine amphibious assault along the coast of Kuwait. Sometimes you want to believe something a certain way so badly that you refuse to see it any other way. We used this to our advantage. Saddam's past war experience with Iran was a full frontal assault. That was all he knew and all he expected. He never seemed to give any thought to an invasion into Iraq itself. And so our ace in the hole was the U.S. Army, French, and British forces. They were tasked with making a run from the western flank, the Iraqi/Saudi border, north to the Euphrates River in order to cut off the Iraqi supply lines as well as any possible reinforcements. They would then turn east to trap the Iraqi Army Reserves and Republican Guard units positioned along the Iraqi/Kuwaiti border, preventing any escape. Those forces were expecting Marines to attack from the East once we linked up with the 4th MEB upon their successful amphibious landing. But they would be surprised by finding out we had an overwhelming force approaching them from the west while we closed in from the east.
I learned from a briefing that I had attended that out first objective was to secure the breach area in a pre-ground invasion maneuver. Then, on G-Day, we would make our way through two defensive belts consisting of two minefields, trenches intended to be lit on fire with oil, barbed wire, and other obstacles and booby traps, all while under fire from artillery, mortar rockets, and machine gun and small arms fire. My reaction was like, "Is that all? Sounds like fun." Once we made it through the second defensive belt, we were tasked with our next objective; taking an airfield in southwest Kuwait named Al-Jaber. Seizing this objective would require us to make a huge left turn to the north, away from the Al-Burqan oil field, after we breached the second defensive belt. Third, we would link up with 1st Marine Division and overrun a large enemy force who was heavily armed. Our final objective was to re-take Kuwait International Airport. The Arab forces were picked to enter Kuwait City first with support from 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions, and if necessary, we would roll in behind them to assist in taking the city.
We learned today when all of this was scheduled to start. It would initially be February 22nd, but later rescheduled for the 24th in hopes that the weather would improve. It did not, but good weather or bad, we were going in on the 24th.
"Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread
of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with