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Saudi Royal Marines - In Action 1991

In Operation Desert Shield in late 1990, US Marine Corps RCT 3 (Task Force Taro) avoided being billeted on the pier at Jubayl. It moved into a Saudi Marine base at Ras Al Ghar which was limited in its training facilities. The proximity of the American unit and a brigade of the Saudi Army National Guard soon led to a spirit of cooperation on training needs. General Myatt encouraged this development and, in October 1990, appointed the Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General Thomas V. Draude, to coordinate the division-Saudi training effort.

In late 1990 the US Marines trained members of the Third Battalion Royal Saudi Marines in basic military tactics, techniques and procedures. Training the Saudi troops was a challenge. Most of the Saudi marines were former sailors, but they didnt have any ships, so the Americans had to make marines out of them. The US Marines spent a lot of time in the desert, where they trained, lived and patrolled.

The relationship with the Saudi Marines expanded to encompass combined use of training ranges as well as cross-training on a vast spectrum of military subjects. The US Marines were careful to ensure cross-training was a mutually supporting and reciprocal program. The Saudis conducted classes on subjects they knew well -- desert tactics, desert survival, and desert navigation. In return, the US Marines rotated company-sized groups forward for eight- to 10-day training periods concentrating on Marine expertise on such subjects as weapons, leadership, and equipment maintenance. The international cooperation enhanced the fighting capabilities of both forces.

The US Marines invited soldiers of the Arab coalition forces to participate in the Marine birthday ceremony on 10 November 1990. When the division moved forward in January, Task Force Taro was placed next to the Arab sector at Al Mishab. The move made Task Force Taro the northernmost Marine combat force except for Task Force Shepherd. The US Marines extended the training program to include the Royal Saudi Army, the nascent Saudi Marine Corps, and the Saudi Army National Guard brigade.

The Arab coalition forces were divided into two Joint Forces Commands, Eastand North. These forces were positioned in eastern Saudi Arabia on the Kuwaiti border.Prior to the ground offensive, the two joint forces commands were used as part of themilitary deception plan: demonstrating the build-up to strike straight into Kuwait. This held the attention of the Iraqi commanders. Joint Forces Command - East included Task Force Tariq, consisting of a Marine Battalion Task Force of the Saudi Marines, as well as an Infantry Battalion (Senegal) and the 6th MECH Infantry Regiment (Morocco). The placement of the subcommands was due to Arab pride which dictated that they hold positions in the frontline to ensure theirs would be the first blood shed.

The Saudi coastal town of Ras al-Khafji, more commonly know as al-Khafji, lies approximately seven milessouth of the Saudi-Kuwait border. Before the war, the primary industries in the town were oil and tourism, but it was essentially deserted. Unusually heavy Iraqi activity occured on the nights of 27 and 28 January. Sporadic Iraqi rocket and artillery fires were directed at the city of al-Khafji, the forward Saudi defensive belt, and the border observation posts. During the night of 29 January 1991 the Iraqis attacked. Their fire was random and inaccurate, but the volume was impressive.

Stationed on the east side of al-Khafji, near the beach, was a unit of Saudi Marines. Designed to emulate U.S.Marines, this newly formed Saudi force lacked equipment and their American Marine advisors who had not yet joinedthem. As Captain Molofsky, the US 3d Marines liaison officer, later explained, they were camped out basically functioning at very low ebb. By one account "Joint Forces Command-East ordered the unit to withdraw just after midnight to al-Mishab and they took no further part inthe battle."

By according to Kenneth M. Pollack's Arabs at war: military effectiveness, 1948-1991 "The Saudis put up a very brief resistance and then fled. ... Moreover, a battalion of Saudi marines guarding the beaches north of the city fled all the way to al- Mishab, nearly sixty kilometers to the rear. The panic of Saudi forces in this area allowed Iraqi forces to occupy R'as al-Khafji." Saudi and Qatari troops moved in opposition to the 400-600 Iraqi troops and 40-45 tanks in Al khafji, U.s marine aviators furnished air help from Cobra gunships. Troops acquired begun to move into stance not as much than 24 hours soon after the Iraqis had seized the city, and by Febuary 1st it was liberated.

Although Coalition air power undoubtedly played a key role in the defeat of the Iraqi offensive, it was the bravery of the Saudi ground troops, with American advisors, who eventually ejected the Iraqis from Saudi soil. Al-Khafji entered Saudi military history as a great victory. For the Americans, al-Khafji was won almost by accident. American forces proved so superior that it did not completely register that a major Iraqi offensive had occurred. As a result, U.S. Central Command planners did not expect the Iraqis to collapse as quickly as they did in the February invasion.



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