Breaking

Highway of Death, the result of American forces bombing retreating Iraqi forces, Kuwait, 1991


On Sunday 24, February 1991, Allied forces launched a combined ground, air and sea attack that overwhelmed Iraqi forces within 100 hours.

By 26 February, Iraq had announced that it was withdrawing its forces from Kuwait, but still refused to accept all UN resolutions passed against it. Iraqi tanks, armored vehicles, trucks and soldiers fleeing Allied attacks formed large lines on the main road from Kuwait to the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

Allied forces bombarded them from the air, killing hundreds of soldiers in their vehicles, which became known as the "Highway of Death". The scenes of devastation on the street are some of the most recognizable images of the war and were publicly cited as a factor in President George HW Bush's decision to declare an end to hostilities the next day.

The devastating attack resulted in the destruction and abandonment of more than a thousand vehicles on Highway 80 north of Al Jahra (the official 'Highway of Death'), and several hundred more on the lesser-known Highway 8 to Basra.

Between 1,400 and 2,000 vehicles were hit or abandoned on Main Highway 80 north of Al Jahra. Several hundred and traversed the lesser-known Highway 8 into the major southern Iraq military stronghold of Basra.

American planes trapped long convoys by disabling the vehicles at the front and rear, and then resulting in traffic jams for hours. "It was like shooting a fish in a barrel", said an American pilot.

This bombing was done with cluster bombs and incendiary rounds from A-10s. A cluster bomb is a weapon consisting of multiple explosive submissions.

It spreads the destruction over a very wide area and does not leave a single large crater behind. Anyone, whether military or civilian, is likely to be killed or seriously injured in an area of ​​cluster ammunition attack.


In the end, it is clear that these troops were completely driven out and there was no threat to the Coalition forces at this point in the game. At the same time it should be emphasized that they were holding back. However, retreat is not the same as surrender.

If they did not surrender they were enemy fighters. Also retreat or "fall back" is considered a tactical movement. The vast majority of combat casualties are in retreat, and so effectively the objective of the fight is to force the opposing army to retreat, at which point you deliver the true "'death blow".

There are two factors going on here that are not really well understood when people discuss the highway of death. Firstly, the Iraqi army was the fourth largest army in the world and had a lot of equipment that was considered very good by 1991 standards.

Rational people were talking about America having 10,000 casualties during the fighting that lasted for a couple of weeks. In the context of a battle where you're expected to lose thousands of soldiers, it makes a lot of sense to destroy the enemy's military hardware when you can do it cheaply.

Second, those who had real decision-making power didn't have time to digest what was actually happening and make changes. The entire ground war lasted only four days, and the fifth day probably meant the fall of Saddam Hussein's government. The people in charge were trying to respond to a situation that was very different from what they initially expected.



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