Wadi El Batin – 24 February 1991. Amidst the destruction of prior coalition airstrikes, M1A1s of Task Force 1-32 Armor, 1st Cavalry Division, breach the berm forming leading edge of Iraq’s border defenses.
Event Date: February 26, 1991
Battle between U. S. VII Corps and the Tawakalnah Mechanized Division of the Iraqi Republican Guard on February 26, 1991, during Operation desert storm. The engagement was essentially a tank battle. A desert gulch that originates near the town of Hafar al-Batin in Saudi Arabia and runs in a northeasterly direction for about 200 miles, the Wadi al-Batin also delineates most of Kuwait’s western border with Iraq. It passes through the triborder area where the boundaries of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq intersect. The Wadi al-Batin provides a natural invasion route into Kuwait and played an important role in coalition planning for the liberation of Kuwait during the ground war phase of Operation desert storm.
Coalition reconnaissance of Iraqi positions confirmed that the Iraqis had deployed their forces to fight off coalition attacks via the Wadi al-Batin, with additional attacks expected in southern Kuwait and from the sea off Kuwait. In fact, the main coalition attack would come to the west of the Wadi and take the form of a giant left hook around Iraqi positions in Kuwait. The Iraqis did not believe that coalition armored forces could navigate successfully through Iraq’s featureless southwestern desert because Iraq’s own armored forces experienced difficulty doing so. The Iraqis failed to understand that the introduction of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology in the American armed forces meant that topographical landmarks were not necessary in order to maneuver through the desert. The Iraqis also refused to believe that the Americans had sufficient logistical support necessary for a major armored advance through such difficult terrain. The main Iraqi defenses therefore did not extend much more than 100 miles to the west of Wadi al-Batin, leaving a major gap further to the west for coalition armies to exploit.
Coalition planners sought to divert the attention of Iraqi generals away from the western desert and keep them focused on Kuwait and the Wadi al-Batin. On February 16, 1991, U. S. 1st Cavalry Division artillery fired at Iraqi artillery positions in the Wadi. Attacks by Apache helicopters on Iraqi artillery followed. On February 19, units from the 1st Cavalry conducted a reconnaissance in force that ran into heavy resistance from the Iraqi 27th Division defending the Wadi. Both raids diverted Iraqi attention away from the buildup of the U. S. VII Corps, massing to the west for the main attack.
On February 24, the first day of the ground war, units of the 1st Cavalry launched a feint into the Wadi al-Batin. When the 1st Cavalry withdrew, the Iraqis concluded that they had repulsed the main coalition attack. Soon, however, the Iraqis realized the danger they faced from the coalition left hook and began redeploying Republican Guard divisions to meet that threat. The Tawakalnah Mechanized Division of the Republican Guard was deployed just west of the Wadi al-Batin to stop the American VII Corps and allow Iraqi troops to escape from Kuwait.
The U. S. VII Corps fought the Tawakalnah Division in the afternoon and evening of February 26 in the Battle of Wadi al-Batin. The Tawakalnah Division could muster only some 200 tanks to stop more than 1,000 American tanks that also enjoyed complete air supremacy. Although the Tawakalnah Division fought with great determination and tenacity, it also exercised poor tactical skill. Its older Iraqi T-72 tanks were completely outclassed by the American M1A1s. The American tanks could destroy the T-72s at a range of two-and-one-half miles, far beyond the effect range of the T-72s.
In the battle, the Tawakalnah Division lost 177 tanks and 107 armored personnel carriers and was destroyed as a fighting unit. Nevertheless, it succeeded in putting out of action four M1A1 tanks and a number of Bradley armored fighting vehicles, feats unmatched by any other Iraqi division in the war.
Republican guard soldiers gather on the outskirts of Baghdad on April 3, 2003
Iraqi army formation created in 1978 that served as the elite force of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s army. The Republican Guard was permanently disbanded after the 2003 Iraq War (Operation iraqi freedom). Throughout its existence, the Republican Guard was one of the mainstays of Hussein’s regime and received the best equipment, training, and personnel. When first constituted, the Republican Guard was a palace guard of one brigade. At the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, the Guard was expanded to take on the role of an elite offensive force, and by 1988 it numbered seven divisions and had been redesignated as the Republican Guard Forces Command (RGFC). The total strength of this force was estimated at 50,000 men and 400 tanks in seven divisions. There were an additional 10,000 troops in the Special Republican Guard, which was composed of the most loyal troops, usually stationed close to Baghdad.
The names of the seven divisions reflected either past military victories or past monarchs, such as the 6th Nebuchadnezzar Division named after the 6th-century BCE king of Babylon. Republican Guard divisions were organized similarly to those of the regular army, apart from the fact that the tank battalions had more tanks. However, soldiers in the Republican Guard were volunteers rather than conscripts and received subsidized housing and new cars as incentives. These incentives were to help ensure the loyalty of the Guard to Hussein and his regime. Many members of the Republican Guard were either from the Tikrit area or from other bases of support for the regime. In terms of equipment, much of the armored forces of the Guard were equipped with Soviet-produced T-72 tanks, and training in their use was more thorough than in the regular army.
The Republican Guard was not under the control of the defense ministry, but rather served as Iraq’s special security apparatus. By 1990 the RGFC was officially under the command of Saddam Hussein’s son Qusay, although it is possible that he directed only the Special Republican Guard, which guarded the palaces and important headquarters of the regime.
The Republican Guard was the main strike force in the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. In response to the deployment of coalition forces in operations desert shield and desert st orm, the majority of the Republican Guard was held in reserve. For the U. S.- led coalition against Iraq, destruction of the Republican Guard was a high priority. This was largely achieved by the 1st and 3rd U. S. Armored divisions. Following the end of the Persian Gulf War on February 28, 1991, Hussein rebuilt the Republican Guard, although, as with the rest of the Iraqi army, it was not to pre-1990 standards.
In 1995 an attempted military coup against Hussein led a battalion of the Guard from the al-Dulaymi tribe to rebel as well. They were subsequently defeated by two loyal brigades, and the clans of the al- Dulaymi tribe were severely punished. In July 1995 the Republican Guard was purged of all officers whom Hussein suspected of disloyalty. In 2002 there were reports that the Guard was being trained in urban warfare and guerrilla tactics. The U. S. military claimed that former Guardsmen constituted many of the insurgent forces in Iraq that fought the coalition and new Iraqi government after 2003; however these assertions have never been proven.
Before the March 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq (Operation Iraqi freedom), the Republican Guard was dug in along the Tigris River close to Baghdad. The Republican Guard was then thought to number between 55,000 and 60,000 troops; some estimates placed the number as high as 75,000-80,000 (including some 7,000-12,000 Special Republican Guards). The force had at its disposal between 350 and 450 Soviet-made T-62 and T-72 tanks and various other armored and unarmored mechanized vehicles. When some of these units advanced to meet the U. S. drive on the capital, they were largely destroyed by U. S. air strikes. Those that escaped the aerial bombardment were annihilated during the Battle for Baghdad, which took place April 3-12, 2003; particularly hard hit during that engagement was the Special Republican Guard. Following the end of official hostilities in May 2003, coalition forces broke up any remaining Republican Guard formations. Some of its personnel, however, were subsequently recruited into internal security formations because of their comparatively high level of training.
References Gordon, Michael R., and General Bernard E. Trainor. The Generals’ War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf. New York: Little, Brown, 1995. Pollack, Kenneth M. Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002. Carhart, Tom. Iron Soldiers: How America’s 1st Armored Division Crushed Iraq’s Elite Republican Guard. New York: Pocket Books, 1994. Ripley, Tom. Desert Storm Land Power: The Coalition and Iraqi Armies. London: Osprey, 1991. Xenos, Nicolas. Republican Guard: Leo Strauss, Foreign Policy, and the American Regime. Oxford, UK: Routledge, 2006.