Wing Commander Paul McDonald served in Kuwait as the senior RAF adviser to the Kuwait Air Force from February 1998 to February 2002.
Although I had met a number of RAF pilots who had served in Kuwait, I didn’t know a great deal about the country before Iraq’s invasion in 1991 brought this corner of the Gulf of Arabia into sharp focus. With the subsequent questions asked about the legality of Gulf War II over ten years later, it is easy to forget the cruelty, the brutality and the sheer barbarism of Saddam Hussein, the man responsible for the invasion of Kuwait, Gulf War I and for so much more.
While the invasion was a shock to many in the West, tension had been building up between the two countries for some time. The issue was mainly oil and the shared Rumailah oilfield. Saddam Hussein accused Kuwait of stealing Iraqi oil from the shared oilfield and then deliberately forcing down the oil price. A Kuwaiti delegation had been negotiating with Iraq and Kuwait’s Crown Prince, who was also the Prime Minister, was due to attend further talks in Bagdad on 4 August 1990.
Kuwait’s Armed Forces had been on high alert but, as the negotiations entered a crucial
stage, they had been stood down to avoid antagonising the Iraqis. Senior officers
in Kuwait’s 35 Brigade, the Brigade nearest the border with Iraq, were convinced
that Iraq would invade and argued strongly that they be allowed to deploy. They were
ordered to do nothing. Against orders, the main armoured battalion was put on alert.
When again ordered to stand-
The Kuwait Air Force, KAF, had three airbases. Mohammed Al-
In the early hours of 2 August, with Kuwaiti’s Armed Forces stood down and two days before Kuwait’s Crown Prince was due in Baghdad for talks, Saddam made his move.
Many people in the West thought that the Kuwaitis did not put up much of a fight. Given their size, and the nature of the attack, there was no way that Kuwait could hold out for long but fight they certainly did and many brave Kuwaitis continued to fight from within during a cruel occupation. It is worth recording that after their country’s occupation, the remnants if the KAF flew 2662 missions from Saudi Arabia between September 1990 and the day of Kuwait’s liberation. I was to learn much during our four years in Kuwait and would meet many who were directly involved in liberating their country.
Iraqi attacked on two main routes, one from north down the main road from Basrah
and over the Mutla Ridge, the only high ground in Kuwait, while the other attack
swung in from the north-
The routes converged on the small town of Jahra, east of the Mutla Ridge and west
of Kuwait City. Ali Al-
Given their losses of helicopters, the Iraqi Air Force soon turned their attention
to the airbases and the main runways were bombed and put out of action. Most Mirages
were airborne when Al-
Kuwait’s 35 Armoured Brigade fought hard and with success as the Iraqis neared Jahra. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Iraqi Republican Guard Divisions which spearheaded the invasion paid a heavy price. The Brigade only broke off and headed to Saudi Arabia when ammunition was low and it was about to be cut off.
In the city, large numbers of Iraqi Special Forces had been landed by sea with the
aim of capturing the royal family but the Emir was able to make his escape. However,
his younger brother, the highly popular and globally respected Sheikh Fahad Al-
Many Kuwaiti servicemen only became aware of the invasion when Kuwait City was bombed.
Some who tried to make it to Ali Al-
I became close friends with one KAF Skyhawk pilot. Ahmed had trained as a pilot in
the USA and he had also spent a year at the RAF Staff College at Bracknell where
he and his family had lived in married quarters. At the time of his invasion he was
a major and worked for the KAF Deputy Commander. Shortly before the HQ was overrun,
Ahmed was ordered to try to make it to Al-
I met a number of Kuwaiti pilots who did things that I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing.
One was another Skyhawk pilot, a quiet and unassuming man by the name of Majed. I
heard from others what he did and, when I eventually met him he was a colonel. In
1991 he was a major and had left home normally to go to work at Ahmed Al-
In normal circumstances such a mission when the enemy had control of the air would
be unheard of; it would very likely be a one-
Our lone Skyhawk pilot didn’t have any difficulty finding the Iraqis. Unbelievably
he completed separate dive-
There was little publicity about what the Iraqis did in Kuwait but there was very fierce resistance throughout the occupation. The Iraqis were merciless in their treatment of the people they caught. The most horrid torture imaginable was carried out with the victims being finally shot, or worse, outside their family home. Very little was ever said about how the Iraqis treated women but rape was widespread with thousands of victims; this left a long term legacy. Publicity about this was much muted.
Some Kuwaiti friends of ours told us about their experiences. One, a KAF junior officer, stayed behind working in the resistance until his position became untenable. He made his escape over the roof at the back of his house as Iraqi soldiers entered through the front to search for him. A few days later his wife and four children made their escape across the desert in the family car, a saloon not a 4x4. She was so ‘matter of fact’ in telling her story and felt that the biggest challenge was not hurtling across the desert through Iraqi lines but having to learn how to cope without her maid when she got to Saudi!
Colonel Bruce Duncan, Commander of the British Liaison Team in Kuwait in 1990, wrote an excellent account of life in Kuwait under Iraqi occupation. It was called Cruelty and Compassion: An Englishman in Kuwait and it was published in the Army Quarterly and Defence Journal in April 1991. There were 66 members of his Team and 150 dependants in Kuwait at the time of the invasion and within two days more than half of his Team were picked up from the main families’ complex. Their homes were broken into and looted and the women were harassed and molested.
He described the regular and conscript Iraqi soldiers (not the Republican Guard)
as a wretched lot who were poorly led and ill equipped. He heard the story of a 17-
During the occupation, Colonel Duncan and his family moved into a vacant house in Mishref, the district that Jackie and I would live in. He described the manner in which his family were looked after by local Kuwaitis as an object lesson in all that is best in Islam. As far as the Kuwaitis were concerned, the British families were guests who had been outrageously treated by people of their Faith and a local committee kept Colonel Duncan’s family supplied. Many Kuwaitis risked their lives to keep British families supplied with food.
He also described some of the activities of the Kuwaiti resistance. A number of young
Kuwaitis died in their cars having attacked Iraqi armoured personnel carriers and
ammunition trucks. The Resistance also shot down an Iraqi military transport aircraft
forcing the Iraqis to stop using the International Airport. The Iraqi response to
these attacks was brutal. A number of Kuwaiti youths were seized at random and shot
in front of their families. Two young boys, not even in their teens, were shot in
front of their pleading parents in Mishref for distributing pro Kuwaiti leaflets.
Many Kuwaiti Palestinians also courageously refused to collaborate with the Iraqis.
Sadly Bruce Duncan’s family’s experience ended in tragedy. During an evacuation brokered between the British Embassy and the Iraqi authorities, and while being transported by the Iraqis, his teenage sons were involved in a horrific accident. His elder son died while his younger son survived though badly injured. For Colonel Duncan, his and his family’s traumatic experience was over by late October but for the Kuwaitis and those foreigners still in Kuwait, liberation was still four months away.