UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Operation Desert Thunder / Desert Viper

In the fall and winter of 1997, Saddam Hussein engaged in a series of aggressive acts which threatened regional stability. He violated no-fly zones, threatened to shoot down U2 reconnaissance over-flights, and interfered with United Nations weapons inspection teams. The ensuing operation was named Operation DESERT THUNDER.

Operation Desert Thunder was the effort to provide military presence and capability during negotiations between the UN and Iraq over weapons of mass destruction. In late 1997 and early 1998, Iraq demonstrated an unwillingness to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors. While diplomatic efforts continued in the hope of a peaceful solution, naval presence in the Gulf swelled as Operation Desert Thunder began.

During the course of 1998 the nomenclature "Desert Thunder" was used with reference to the actual conduct of operations against Iraq, but with the commencement of Operation Desert Fox the "Desert Thunder" nomenclature was applied to the various deployments of military forces over the course of 1998. Some sources reference three phases to Desert Thunder [eg, Desert Thunder III], but unclassified details are presently lacking concerning the operational or temporal partitioning of this operation. Had the strike plan for the operation been executed, the name would have been Operation DESERT VIPER.


When Saddam Hussein blocked United Nations weapons inspections, tested the resolve of coalition commitment by violating the no-fly zone, and publicly threatened to shoot down U2 reconnaissance over-flights in the Fall of 1997, CENTCOM responded with a land, sea, and air strike force of more than 35,000 U.S. and coalition forces.

In support of this powerful multi-service, multinational ground force, General Anthony C. Zinni, Commander-in-Chief, CENTCOM, established a permanent Coalition/ Joint Task Force (C/JTF), headquartered at Camp Doha, Kuwait, and commanded by Lieutenant General Tommy R. Franks, Commanding General, Third Army/ARCENT.

In addition to the U.S. and coalition forces already in Kuwait, a brigade task force from 3d Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga., rapidly deployed to Kuwait. Departing from Hunter Army Airfield, the brigade task force deployed 4,000 personnel and 2,900 short tons of equipment on 120 aircraft. Within 15 hours of landing at Kuwait City International Airport, the unit had drawn prepositioned equipment and was in battle positions in the desert. On Feb. 28, Coalition/Joint Task Force-Kuwait was prepared to defend Kuwait with a ground force strength of more than 9,000 personnel.

Argentina, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, United Kingdom, and Kuwait rounded out the C/JTF by providing liaison teams, aircraft support, special operations elements, Chemical/Biological, Base Defense Units, MASH units, and medical personnel.

Added to forces on the ground was equipment for two more brigades (one Army and one Marine) afloat in the Arabian Gulf with the Maritime Preposition Force. These ships were poised to link up with soldiers and Marines who would draw their equipment and head to the front if required. Attack air provided by Navy, Air Force, and Coalition assets rounded out this formidable force.

In February and March USTRANSCOM supported the deployment of troops to Southwest Asia in response to Saddam Hussein's defiance of UN inspections. In all USTRANSCOM flew more than 300 airlift missions and nearly 200 air refueling missions, carrying 10,000 passengers and 11,000 short tons of cargo in about three weeks.

Within days of being notified, USS George Washington (CVN 73) arrived in the Gulf to join the Nimitz (CVN 68) battle group. USS Independence (CV 62) ensured the presence of two carrier battle groups, when she relieved Nimitz on station a few months later. These 5th Fleet forces, combined with allied and coalition ships such as the British carriers HMS Invincible (R 05) and HMS Illustrious (R 06), accounted for a fleet of 50 ships and submarines and 200 naval aircraft, which assembled in a matter of weeks to put some weight behind diplomatic efforts.

While the 366th Air Expeditionary Wing from Mountain Home AFB were waiting to deploy to Bahrain because of the continuing problems with Iraq, the 347th Air Expeditionary Wing from Moody AFB GA was in Bahrain as the first true Air Expeditionary Wing in the Air Force. The 366th AEW replaced the 347th AEW on 01 April 1998, after the 347th spent over 120 days in Bahrain supporting Operation Southern Watch and Operation Desert Thunder.

During this large scale contingency deployment of Allied Forces into the theater in the spring of 1998, the size of US Army Forces Central Command (ARCENT), Third US Army increased while at the same time relocating their headquarters from the Eastern Province to its present location in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. ARCENT-SA closed its installations in the Eastern Province and moved soldiers and civilian technicians as well as over a billion dollars of equipment safely without incident.

Members of the 11th Signal Brigade deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Desert Thunder, to provide long-haul communications services to the Joint Task Force Headquarters. Approximately 175 signal soldiers from the 86th and 504th Signal Battalions deployed from Fort Huachuca.

Without firing a shot, the combined force flexed enough muscle to bring about Iraqi compliance. In early June 1998 the USS Independence (CV 62) Battle Group returns to Yokosuka, Japan after deploying on short notice to the Arabian Gulf and remaining there four months in support of Operation Southern Watch and Desert Thunder. Ships returning with Independence included USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56).

This was the largest multinational force assembled in Southwest Asia since the conclusion of the Gulf War. The demonstrated capability to quickly deploy combat forces from around the world successfully deterred Iraqi aggression and helped reinstate compliance with the UN Weapons Inspection Program. In November 1998, when the work of the UN inspectors was again interrupted, Third Army quickly returned to the Gulf to convince Saddam that the United States stood ready to enforce the terms of the cease-fire.


As Saddam Hussein violated United Nations sanctions and threatened regional stability, the US began deploying to Kuwait and preparing for combat operations. Coalition/Joint Task Force-Kuwait, in place since DESERT THUNDER I, played a key role in the rapid deployment, reception, staging, onward movement, and integration of forces.

Units deploying to Kuwait included advance parties from the 3d Infantry Division and the 32d Army Air and Missile Defense Command (AAMDC), personnel from the Theater Support Command (TSC), Air Support Operations Center (ASOC), and Marine Forces. In addition, the redeployment of the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in the Gulf was placed on hold and a second Marine Expeditionary Unit was ordered to the Gulf as reinforcement.

While forces were deploying to the Arabian Gulf region, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan flew to Baghdad to meet with Saddam Hussein. Following negotiations, Saddam Hussein agreed to allow uninterrupted resumption of United Nations weapons inspections.

Iraq's continued intransigence and non-compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) resulted in the initiation of Operation DESERT THUNDER on 11 November 1998. At the direction of the National Command Authorities (NCA), CENTCOM began the deployment of forces and postured in-theater assets for possible strike operations. This highly visible deployment resulted in Iraq's eventual, although short-lived, compliance with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM).

In mid-November 1998, as the crisis defused, there were 2,300 personnel deployed to Kuwait in support of C/JTF-Kuwait.

In December 1998 Operation Desert Fox was launched in response to Iraq's repeated refusals to comply with UN Security Council resolutions.


Had the strike plan for the operation been executed, the name would have been Operation DESERT VIPER. Iraq's continued noncompliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions caused USCENTCOM to prepare to conduct Operation DESERT VIPER in November 1998, followed by Operation DESERT FOX in December. As a result of the destruction of key facilities and specialized equipment during several days of combat operations, Iraq's ballistic missile program was set back several years. "Desert Fox" led to putting ordnance on the ground. "Desert Viper" came within eight minutes. Within 8 minutes of TLAMs spinning up, the President said to shut it all down.

Confusingly, the Task Force 2-70 Armor After-Action Report uses the term "Operation Desert Viper" as the name for the coalition forces coordinated ground assault into Iraq and southern Kuwait that began on 24 February 1991 and concluded on 01 March 1991.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:23:01 Zulu