I don’t recall exactly what show we were watching the other morning when the subject turned to the oil well fires set in Kuwait as the Coalition advanced during Desert Storm. After Saddam Hussein had control of Kuwait – which he did quite rapidly – he didn’t know for certain how firmly that proverbial “Line in the Sand” would be drawn. Without getting into a lot of details, the King of Saudi Arabia opened his country to allow the initial forces to enter in a defensive posture. That was the Desert Shield portion. As plans were being drawn up for the offensive action to re-take Kuwait – that was the Desert Storm part. In the midst of many terrible atrocities Iraqis were committing, orders were given to dig trenches in the oil fields and fill them. Among the other threats, Hussein said he would torch the trenches and the oil wells. According to a source I trust, the Emir of Kuwait said something like, “I can rebuild my country once I have it back.”
And so, early one morning as the lightning fast attacks of Desert Storm were pushing the Iraqi military back, the threat was carried out. I think the number of wells set on fire was around 700 and I don’t know how many trenches were. The headquarters I was in was at least 150 miles away (probably more) and the sky was as dark as if twilight was setting in. It was incredible to see and an environmental disaster of staggering proportions. The sky was affected throughout the day and may have been longer. I also don’t recall the number of special crews they brought in (many American of course), but if you watch the old movie, “Hellfighters”, it’s a good depiction of what it was like for months on end. The fires were set the latter part of January and early February and the first ones weren’t extinguished until early April. The effort took until November to complete. Like so much of what happens in war, it accomplished nothing other than to inflict deliberate damage. It didn’t stop the advance of troops or provide a negotiating point. In situations like these, this is why you demand unconditional surrender.