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by Third U.S. Army
(with editorial comments from MAJ Craig A. Triscari)

In many respects, Operation DESERT THUNDER was not a surprise. Since the end of Operation DESERT STORM, ARCENT has deployed forces to Kuwait several times in response to heightened tensions. Throughout the years the thought and planning process has always been not if, but when ARCENT would again deploy forces to Kuwait. Consequently, planning, coordinating, and preparation for a task force deployment were continual, and continue for the future.

Regional Background

Third U.S. Army/ARCENT is unique in many respects, the most important being that it is the Army's only worldwide-deployable Army Headquarters. While this billing is lofty, the reality is no small task and has demanded continual evolutionary refinement. ARCENT, the Army component of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), along with 9th Air Force (CENTAF), 5th Fleet (NAVCENT), Marine Forces Pacific (MARPAC), and Special Operations Command, Central (SOCCENT), has a primary focus on one of the most politically, diplomatically, and militarily diverse and complex regions on the globe - Southwest Asia.

The area of operations consists of 25 countries. The region stretches from Egypt in the west to Pakistan in the east, and from Kazakhstan in the north to Kenya in the south. The area is more than twice as large as the United States, with almost twice the population.

Southwest Asia's strategic location, in relation to its oil-producing capabilities, makes this region one of the most important in the world. All is not equitable, however. There are the "have" and the "have not" countries whose national wealth is directly related to the size and oil-producing capabilities of oil fields. The resultant impact from a military perspective is the ability (or inability) of a country to raise and sustain an armed force. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, members of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), have the capability to purchase defense articles from the world's military salesmen - China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States - while the "have nots" go without or accept conditional gratuitous packages of outdated, aging equipment and weapons from countries who no longer need the equipment or who seek access to the region.

Along with oil fields, the deserts, and the pyramids, the region's most notable images are those of death and destruction from terrorist acts of violence. The terrorist's bomb has had catastrophic economic, political, and military impact on the region. In Egypt, random terrorist attempts at undermining the Mubarak government have had political costs and a devastating economic impact on the tourist industry. In Saudi Arabia, the Khobar Towers bombing caused the U.S. military to reassess its force protection measures for the entire region and prepare for the eventuality of continued unconventional attacks. Most recently, the coordinated attack on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya has escalated tension and caused the United States to expand the region categorized as "high potential" for terrorist attacks. The economic impact to the U.S. Government and to nations wanting the United States to remain in-country has been enormous.

Contributing to the volatility of the region and the ease at which tensions can escalate are the array of active and passive offensive weapons available within the region. Several countries have a ballistic missile-launching capability, and the number of countries with this capability continues to increase. In the struggle for a "balance of power," as one country gains a capability, neighbors (and enemies) seek a compromising capability. The evolution of "one-upsmanship" and the race to keep pace in the balance of power continually skews regional harmony.

Simultaneously, the number of countries possessing chemical and biological capabilities continues to increase. For the price of a small biological or chemical laboratory, lethal weapons can and are being produced for offensive capabilities. These low-cost, high-payoff weapons are the next generation of weaponry that demand equal attention and countermeasures currently given to direct and indirect fires.

Compounding an already delicate situation is the handful of countries possessing or working towards nuclear weapons capability. Most recently, Pakistan and India tested nuclear weapons. This show of power by India and face-saving posturing by Pakistan could be the prelude to an accidental nuclear confrontation.

The complex issues that have evolved within the region over decades should surprise no one. Since 1948, when the Israelis raised their flag and declared independence, there have been four Arab-Israeli wars. By no means, however, are the shots directed only between Arab and Israeli camps. Other major conflicts have been within the Arab community. As an example, Iran and Iraq fought a 10-year war in the 1980's. With the aid of the Soviet Union, Afghanistan fought a costly 10-year civil war. These confrontations have been costly in lives lost, economic destruction, and time. Neither of these wars resolved issues, and tension remains high between the combatants.

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which evolved into the Gulf War of 1991, still has unresolved issues. Coalition members have deployed forces to the region on four separate occasions to aid the Kuwaitis. Numerous border disputes between Egypt and Sudan, North and South Yemen, and Eritrea and Ethiopia have also resulted in heightened tension as well as hostilities.

Southwest Asia is not an ordinary region. It is diverse in culture, language, religion, economic and national resources, and political beliefs. This diversity contributes to the ongoing regional instability. If it were not for Southwest Asia's strategic location and oil-producing capabilities, other countries would not be willing to join forces to protect its stability and prevent monopolies and exclusions. Consequently, the major powers of the world are compelled to take an active involvement in the political and military stability of the region to protect the economic stability of the world.


The past several years have been an evolutionary as well as revolutionary period for Third U.S. Army/ARCENT in preparing for potential hostilities in Southwest Asia. ARCENT continues to maintain a forward presence with forward deployed headquarters in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar. The Intrinsic Action Task Force maintains a continuous presence in Kuwait while training at the Udari Range complex. Special Forces elements from Fort Bragg, N.C., have trained four Kuwaiti brigades and provide continuous interface with the Kuwaiti Army. A Modified Table of Organization and Equipment increase in personnel authorizations for the Third U.S. Army/ARCENT staff was approved. As a result of the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers, force protection measures were vastly increased, and an infantry task force was deployed to the region to provide force protection in Saudi Arabia. The U.S. Patriot air defense coverage was concentrated in Saudi Arabia with five active and two Ready Reserve batteries. Air defense coverage was increased with the deployment of a Ready Reserve Patriot battery from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain in support of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Force. The changing situation resulted in CINCCENT directing that the OPLAN for the region be rewritten.

Crisis between Kuwait and Iraq

Kuwait's distrust for Iraq goes back to before the Gulf War. It remains a situation not unlike that of a snake and mouse being caged together. Iraq would unhesitatingly "consume" Kuwait were it not for coalition countries protecting Kuwait. Distrust for Iraq remains justifiably high for many reasons. Since 1994 the Iraqi government has initiated unprovoked threatening acts on four occasions which necessitated military response by the United States and other coalition members.

The stage for Operation DESERT THUNDER was set in February 1998. As a result of Iraq's repeated aggressive actions over the preceding four years, the United States increased its presence and capabilities within Kuwait. Consequently, prior to the deployment of forces in February 1998, the ARCENT commander had at his control the following in-country assets:

  • One mechanized brigade set of prepositioned equipment in Kuwait.
  • One mechanized infantry task force, part of INTRINSIC ACTION, conducting training in Kuwait.
  • Five active and two reserve Patriot batteries in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
  • One infantry battalion task force providing force protection in Saudi Arabia.
  • One Special Forces company, part of IRIS GOLD, training four Kuwaiti brigades.

The deployment of forces to Kuwait was unlike other situations where U.S. forces had been deployed to countries with unfamiliar conditions. Over the course of the previous four to five years, battalion, brigade, and division commanders and their staffs had walked the terrain, studied war plans, coordinated with the Kuwaiti military, and conducted exercises to war-game scenarios. Continuous revision and evolutionary preparation had been the standard.


A significant part of the ARCENT mission is to act as the Army Component Command of U.S. Forces Central Command; to develop and coordinate requirements, plans and participation of U.S. Army forces, and when directed, joint/combined forces, in USCENTCOM exercises and contingencies; and to provide command and control of Army forces operating within the USCENTCOM area of responsibility.

ARCENT's success in the region is based on a prudent balance of prepositioned equipment, a small contingent of forward deployed forces, and the ability to quickly project forces. The concept is to have an expeditionary force that provides "just enough, just in time." In fact, Third U.S. Army/ARCENT has no organic resources in which to perform its assigned mission. Based on approved OPLANS, implementation and fielding of the force is directed by the Atlantic Command (ACOM), who directs FORSCOM to provide the Army assets for ARCENT to perform its mission.

National Defense Role

In response to Iraqi provocative actions, violations of the no-fly zones, and U.N. sanctions, ARCENT Headquarters, MARCENT Headquarters, and the Army Air and Missile Defense Command Headquarters began to deploy a small element into Kuwait in February 1998 to establish a command and control capability should the National Command Authority elect to deploy forces into Kuwait. Simultaneously, a small British element commanded by a brigadier arrived to provide the UK the same command and control connectivity being established by ARCENT. Ultimately, a coalition force of 11 countries was formed.

While each country offered a variety of equipment and forces, full deployment of the coalition force's pledged assets were never needed or deployed to Kuwait. The UK provided immediate response with 9 Gr-8 Toranadoes aircraft and later increased the number to 12. Each country did, however, have liaison representatives within the Combined Operations and Intelligence Center (COIC) to provide linkage between their country and Coalition Joint Task Force-Kuwait (C/JTF-KU).

Early in the operation, four objectives were established for the C/JTF-KU:

  • Deploy the Task Force. Two days after the receipt of the CENTCOM deployment order, aircraft began the air bridge from the United States and Europe to Kuwait. Over a very intense ten days in February, 157 aircraft transported approximately 6,100 military members into Kuwait.

  • Form a Coaltion/Joint Task Force. Organization of the task force evolved as U.S. and coalition forces arrived in-country. From a maneuver/combat perspective, the backbone of the ground strength was the 3rd Infantry Division (Mech) (-) and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Air defense for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain was provided by two Patriot battalions. The 24th Corps Support Group provided a headquarters element to plan for logistical sustainment of the forces and for reception, staging, and onward movement of follow-on forces. Coalition countries provided and/or pledged both forces and equipment primarily in the combat support and service support areas. ARCENT Headquarters was directed to stand-up C/JTF-KU simultaneously with receipt of the deployment order. CENTCOM provided augmentation to the headquarters for the staff sections and assignment of general officers who served as the chief of staff, C/J-3, C/J-4, and joint rear area coordinator.

  • Train the force. Individual and collective training occurred in three simultaneous arenas. First, individual training for soldiers, Marines, and airmen was designated to hone their individual skills. While some members and units in the C/JTF-KU were reservists and activated for the deployment, all members of the task force trained on their individual skills. Second, units trained to meet their collective skills. Finally, the C/JTF-KU trained as a C/JTF, and the staff trained to meet the requirements to command, control, and support the operational and strategic level of war.

  • Protect the force. Every commander has an inherent responsibility to protect the force. This is accomplished by providing the leadership, guidance, and resources for units to prepare fighting positions, obstacles, and physical barriers against enemy attack. During Operation DESERT THUNDER, protecting the force included protection against the possibility of a biological attack. Consequently, every U.S. member of the coalition task force received the anthrax vaccine.

  • Warfight if required. This additional objective is the one objective that has not been met and not desired, although C/JTF-KU is fully prepared to accomplish this critical mission.

Third U.S. Army/ARCENT Role

ARCENT is functionally organized to transition from being the U.S. Army component to being the C/JTF-KU headquarters when directed to do so by CINCCENT. If this occurs, the colonel (06) commanding the forward deployed forces in Kuwait becomes the C/JTF-KU chief of staff. If a general officer is assigned to perform this position, then the ARCENT-KU commander becomes the deputy chief of staff.

Forward deployment of Third U.S. Army/ARCENT headquarters means conducting split operations in Kuwait and Atlanta. Since the staffing authorizations do not allow for manning at two locations, U.S. Army reservists in the Troop Program Unit are called on to fill positions at both locations. Without this vital resource, ARCENT headquarters would be incapable of performing split base operations.

Since Third U.S. Army/ARCENT has no organic forces assigned, it relies on FORSCOM to provide the necessary forces to accomplish assigned missions. Preparation for this is continuous and occurs through the planning, preparation, and coordination phases that planners routinely do. Given these requirements, FORSCOM can then designate and, when directed by ACOM, provide forces to ARCENT. In the normal command and control relationship, ARCENT is a member of the CENTCOM team.

For Operation DESERT THUNDER, the Coalition/Joint Task Force command and control was the following:

Operations Within the Region

Once deployed, each unit within the C/JTF-KU went immediately to an assigned tactical assembly area, motor pool, aid station, or other place of duty. The standard for receiving, staging, onward movement, and integration of deployed forces into the C/JTF-KU force structure is that all units must be combat effective at their initial position within 16 hours after arrival of their aircraft at the airport. In every case, this standard was met or exceeded.

Training was intensive and consisted of live fires, field and command post exercises, rehearsals, and terrain orientations. At every opportunity, training was conducted in a joint and coalition environment. The Kuwaiti armed forces conducted a very energetic training schedule that refined crew and unit skills. Kuwaiti forces participated in every field training exercise, command post exercise, and rehearsal that the C/JTF-KU conducted.

One of the most challenging aspects was in training a C/JTF-KU staff that had never worked together. The framework for accomplishing this task was threefold. First, individual section training was conducted to educate everyone on techniques, procedures, and terminology. Following the introductory process, a communications exercise was conducted to verify communications lines, SOPs, reports, and reporting procedures. Early in the process it was identified that the coalition task force critically needed a C/JTF-KU staff manual on standing operating procedures. A concerted effort was made to accomplish this critical task. Contractor assistance was used to collect data provided by staff sections, assimilate the data, and publish the SOP. The entire process was accomplished in approximately 45 days.

Next, the staff conducted "rock drills" (rehearsals) of the DESERT THUNDER operations plan. Participants included all units, commanders, and staffs. The rehearsals were normally located at a Kuwaiti brigade headquarters or a training site.

Finally, three different command post exercises were conducted. The first was a Deep Operations-Fires exercise that included ARCENT, JTF-SWA, NAVCENT, British, and Kuwaiti participation. Following the exercise, an in-depth after-action review was conducted.

The main gun of a Bradley can be seen as it
follows another toward the enemy trench line.

At the end of March, a five-day command post exercise was conducted following the scenario envisioned by the DESERT THUNDER OPLAN. This was a computer-generated exercise with observers/controllers (O/Cs) from the Battle Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth, Ks.; U.S. Marine O/Cs from Quantico, Va.; and evaluators from ACOM. While the staff was participating in the command post exercise, soldiers from the 3d Infantry Division were conducting a force-on-force field training exercise (FTX) with evaluations provided by O/Cs from the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Ca. In all situations, after-action reviews were conducted. An attractive advantage to the training situation was that since units did not redeploy to garrison motor pools at the conclusion of the FTX, they were able to train to improve in the areas where shortfalls were noted.

The last major training exercise conducted was a three-part close air support exercise (CASEX) involving USAF, USN, USA, UK, SOCCENT, and Kuwaiti ground and air assets. The first part was a half-day seminar for senior U.S. and Kuwaiti leaders that reviewed procedures for conducting close air support. The second part was a rehearsal and communications check for all participating units. The actual CASEX was a 20-hour live- and dry-fire operation in which SOCCENT, 3ID, USAF, and Kuwaiti units called in close air support missions. An average of 6 sorties occurred each hour, except for one hour when there were 12 sorties.

The Marines conducted a 30-day exercise called NATIVE FURY from mid-May through mid-June. It was a five-phase operation over a two-week period that included downloading approximately 400 pieces of Marine Prepositioned Equipment from an MPS ship. It included a field training exercise, live fires, and a command post exercise. The purpose of the exercise was to download portions of the MPS, bring in Marines to fall in on the equipment, and then conduct FTXs and CPXs in support of DESERT THUNDER.

Two Bradleys rumble by Staff Sgt. Patrick Herrera,
an observer-controller for 1st Plt's run, as he
sends a radio message to one of the other OCs.

While the task force trained hard during the four months it was on the ground, the vanguard to the arrival of the C/JTF-KU force was the continuous presence of the Intrinsic Action Task Force. This mechanized battalion task force ranges in size from approximately 1,100 to 1,200 soldiers, has a battery of artillery, and a company of engineers. Task Force 1-30 from the 3d ID had arrived in Kuwait in January for its four-month training rotation and, without knowing, was the first unit of the C/JTF-KU that would begin arriving a month later. The Intrinsic Action Task Force has three rotations annually, maintaining a continuous presence in Kuwait.

Command and Control Structure

The command and control structure initially met all planned expectations. Upon activation of the C/JTF-KU, the in-country assets fell under the control of the C/JTF-KU commander. IRIS GOLD transitioned to a special operations command and control element under tactical control of the C/JTF-KU. NAVCENT, the Joint Psychological Operations Task Force, the Joint Special Operation Task Force, and MARCENT all established liaison cells in the COIC. All remained under the command and control of CENTCOM and had coordination authority with C/JTF-KU. Coalition members sending liaison officers were provided office space in the COIC but were separated from the operations and intelligence areas. A C/JTF-KU coordination cell, commanded by a U.S. colonel, provided connectivity and support assistance and acted as a direct staff representative to the various liaison teams.

Lesson: A separate, extremely valuable combined terrain walk rehearsal was conducted by all units. Commanders at all levels were able to meet units to their left and right. Meetings were conducted on the ground at the location where the event was planned to occur. A terrain walk is an event that is seldom executed, but it proved to be one of the most valuable parts of the exercise.


The planning and preparation that occurred over the previous five years paid off in February 1998 with the deployment of forces into Kuwait. The plan worked. Army doctrine has changed from the concept of large forward deployed forces that were used in Europe for 40 years to the expeditionary force that we now use to respond to challenges such as in Kuwait. Operation DESERT THUNDER tested many of the concepts that for years were only discussed and war-gamed.

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