The mere fact that they launched these attacks indicates they still have a lot of fight left in them.
- General H. Norman Schwarzkopf
The Battle of Khafji began on January 29, and ended on February 1, 1991, following a punishing 12 days of Allied air strikes in the first phase of Desert Storm. Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein's elite Fifth Mechanized Division and Third Armored Division launched their only organized assault on Allied ground forces during the war, at the abandoned Saudi Arabian town of Al Khafji.
The three-day ground conflict in and around Al Khafji involved some of the costliest firefights for American soldiers since the killing fields of Vietnam. Saudi and Qatari troops also suffered casualties.
The main phase of the battle for Khafji lasted fewer than 48 hours.
Four days prior to the assault on Khafji, U.S. Air Force E-8 Joint STARS* detected a build-up of Iraq's forces deep behind Kuwait's border. Bunkers and a reinforced Iraq artillery were under construction, and by the 28th of January, Saddam's Third Armored Division (tanks) were observed closing the distance along the southern border of Saudi Arabia's Islamic holy land.
Marines positioned just beyond the outskirts of Khafji waited in the cold darkness of January 29. A loud clanking was heard from a distance, as Soviet-built tanks emerged from the darkness. A convoy of Iraqi tanks approached with their cannons facing in the opposite direction an international signal of surrender.
With fingers on triggers, marines and army special forces watched as Iraq's Third Armored Division suddenly swung their cannons forward and unleashed fire in their direction. Allied forces immediately retaliated, but the Iraqis gained an initial upper hand pushing the Allies back and taking control of Khafji.
The battle continued as two soldiers (one female) from a U.S. transportation battalion went missing, and two six-man marine reconnaissance teams became trapped inside Khafji. Nevertheless, the teams inside the town directed in a barrage of fire from U.S. artillery and air support.
The following morning, Iraqi forces were operating with only a few hundred troops inside Khafji. The relentless punishment of artillery and air attacks proved to be too much for Saddam's forces.
With the offensive now about 24 hours old, and Allied forces pressing forward, Iraqi reinforcements made a push for Khafji under cover of darkness. Joint STARS detected the movement and pounded the approaching Iraqi army with liberating vengeance.
Holy land retaken for a price
By the morning of January 31, Iraq's entire offensive at Khafji had been shut down. However, the three-day battle had exacted the sacrifice of 25 U.S. personnel; Allied Arab losses totaled 10 killed and 32 wounded. Iraqi casualties were estimated at more than 2,000 killed, and some 400 of them were taken prisoner in the Khafji area during the battle.
*Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System is a long-range, air-to-ground surveillance system designed to locate, classify and track ground targets in all weather conditions.