History of the Persian Gulf War, and subsequent actions of the U.S. Central Command

By Jay E. Hines, Command Historian


The United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) is one of the five geographically defined unified commands within the Department of Defense. Today it is responsible for planning and conducting United States (U.S.) military activity in a region consisting of 25 countries in Northeast Africa, Southwest and Central Asia, and the island nation of the Seychelles. An evolutionary development of the temporary Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) established by the Carter administration, USCENTCOM was established January 1, 1983. As its name implies, USCENTCOM covers the "central" area of the globe located between the European and Pacific Commands. Today’s command evolved as a practical solution to the problem of projecting U.S. military power to the Gulf region from halfway around the world. In the recent past, USCENTCOM has become known for its success in leading a coalition to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation and for humanitarian operations in Somalia and Kenya, among other activities. Current developments in the command’s strategy have validated its mission and articulated its vision as a versatile and flexible command able to deal with evolving threats and continuing challenges in its assigned part of the world.

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf Assumes Command

On November 23, 1988, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, U.S. Army, became USCENTCOM’S third commander-in-chief (USCINCCENT). When Gen. Schwarzkopf was interviewed for the position of USCINCCENT by Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci, one of the concerns expressed was Iraq’s military might at the end of the long Iran-Iraq war. In his travels around the Arabian Gulf during his first year as UNCINCCENT, however, Gen. Schwarzkopf found that most of the friendly countries in his area of responsibility were more concerned with Iran than Iraq. King Hussein of Jordan, for example, told Gen. Schwarzkopf in January 1989, "Don’t worry about the Iraqis. They are war weary and have no aggressive intentions toward their Arab brothers."

Spurred by the rapid diminution of Soviet aggressiveness under Mikhail Gorbachev, Gen. Schwarzkopf worked to supplant USCENTCOM’s primary war plan, which involved a war against the Soviets in Iran, with a more realistic scenario. The strategy of the original plan called for five and two-thirds divisions to march from the Arabian Gulf to the Zagros Mountains and prevent the Red Army from seizing the oil fields of Iran. Instead, Gen. Schwarzkopf began to plan for what he thought was a far more likely situation: Iraq, emerging from eight years of war against Iran with the world’s fourth-largest and most battle-hardened army, moving south to capture the rich oil fields whose output was essential to the industrial world.

Iraq Invades Kuwait, Saudis Accept Assistance

Gen. Schwarzkopf first tested this new strategy in INTERNAL LOOK, a command post exercise held from July 9 through August 4,1990 at Fort Bragg and at Hurlburt and Duke Fields in Florida. As the exercise unfolded, he noticed that the real-world movements of Iraq’s air and ground forces eerily paralleled the scripted scenario of the war game. So closely did actual intelligence reports resemble the fictional exercise messages, the latter had to be prominently stamped "Exercise Only." During the last few days of INTERNAL LOOK, Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded and captured Kuwait. Suddenly in possession of Kuwait’s oil fields, Iraq was poised to acquire the even more valuable prize of the Arabian Peninsula.

Four days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, Gen. Schwarzkopf and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney traveled to Saudi Arabia to confer with King Fahd about the Iraqi threat to his kingdom. After USCINCCENT outlined his plan for the defense of Saudi Arabia, Secretary Cheney conveyed a personal message from President Bush that the United States was prepared to deploy the forces outlined in the general’s plan, but sought no permanent bases in his country. Based on his experiences in the Middle East, Gen. Schwarzkopf had expected a dilatory and noncommittal response, but, to his considerable surprise, King Fahd accepted Cheney’s offer almost immediately.


Operation DESERT SHIELD began the next day, on August 7, 1990. Within two days of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the first U.S. naval combatants began deploying toward the waters adjacent to the Arabian Gulf. On the same day that President Bush signed the initial combat forces deployment order, the first aircraft from the Military Airlift Command arrived in Saudi Arabia. The first combat aircraft and ground forces landed on August 8. On August 10, the ships of the Maritime Prepositioning Force were ordered to sail, 17 ships of the Ready Reserve Fleet were activated, the first agreement to charter a U.S. ship was signed, and more than one hundred additional aircraft were deployed to the theater. Elements of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force began deploying by air on August 12. Concurrently, President Bush ordered economic sanctions against Iraq and the deployment of additional naval vessels to enforce them. The first squadron of C-130 transport planes arrived in Saudi Arabia on August 17.

When the first prepositioned ships arrived at ports of debarkation on August 16, they were quickly linked with Marine Corps units, forming a Marine Air-Ground Task Force. With 30 days of supplies, this task force gave USCENTCOM a mechanized force and supporting air power in theater within two weeks of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. To increase the deployment pace, on August 17 the Civil Reserve Air Fleet was activated for the first time in its history. During the next seven months, the United States Transportation Command moved nearly 504,000 passengers, 3.7 million tons of dry cargo, and 6.1 million tons of petroleum products to USCENTCOM’s area of responsibility. Gen. Schwarzkopf officially established a forward headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on August 26, while President Bush put together a coalition of 29 countries fielding a total force of nearly 700,000 men and women. As leader of the coalition forces, USCINCCENT acquired a new title: Supreme Allied Commander, Kuwaiti Theater of Operations.

As forces continued to arrive in theater, a major milestone was reached on October 2, when the aircraft carrier USS Independence (CV-62) moved into the Arabian Gulf. This was the first time since 1974 that an American carrier had sailed into the relatively confined waters of the Gulf. By November of 1990, Gen. Schwarzkopf was able to shift his focus from defense to offense. Having successfully deterred Iraq from attacking Saudi Arabia, USCENTCOM now began to plan for the liberation of Kuwait. Additional forces deployed included a heavy division from the United States and the VII Corps from Germany, their associated combat and support elements, three carrier battle groups, one battleship, Amphibious Group 3 with the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, the II Marine Expeditionary Force, and 410 additional Air Force aircraft.

Legal Authorization

Backed by the United Nations Security Council, which had passed Resolution 678 on November 29, 1990 authorizing coalition forces to use all means necessary to enforce its earlier resolutions calling for Iraqi forces to leave Kuwait, USCENTCOM continued to build up a force adequate to the task. The United Nations resolution had given Iraq until January 15, 1991 to remove its forces or face military action from USCENTCOM and its coalition partners. Shortly before that deadline, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution on January 12, 1991 authorizing President Bush to use U.S. armed forces pursuant to the United Nations resolution.

As the deadline approached, Gen. Schwarzkopf set out the objectives of the offensive campaign. USCENTCOM and the coalition forces were to attack the Iraqi military and political leadership and their command and control systems. They would gain and maintain air superiority, sever Iraqi supply lines, and destroy Iraq’s production, storage, and delivery capabilities for chemical, biological, and nuclear forces. They would also destroy Saddam Hussein’s vaunted Republican Guard forces in the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations. Finally, they would liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.

To accomplish these objectives, the original DESERT STORM theater campaign plan was to be carried out in four distinct phases. Phase I was to be a strategic air campaign. Phase II would be a short but intense effort to establish air superiority in the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations. Phase III would consist of air attacks on the Republican Guard and other Iraqi army forces in that theater. Finally, Phase IV would be a ground offensive supported by air and naval forces.


By January 1991, enough air forces were available that the coalition decided to conduct the first three phases of this plan simultaneously, applying the greatest amount of pressure from the opening minutes of the war. On January 17 at 0300 hours Riyadh time, Operation DESERT STORM began with a massive air interdiction strike. Within the next seven hours, more than 750 sorties were flown by aircraft from France, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Targets throughout Iraq and Kuwait included military emplacements, air defense assets, and command and control facilities. The air campaign deprived Saddam Hussein of the initiative and prepared the theater for a coalition ground assault that would complete the destruction of Iraqi forces in Kuwait with minimal losses.
After more than five weeks of air strikes, ground operations commenced on February 24 at 0400 hours Riyadh time. Aided by a USMC amphibious feint along the coast of Kuwait which focused the attention of Iraqi forces to the east and south and assisted by secondary attacks along the border between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the main coalition attacked on a sweep from the west northward deep into Iraqi territory. It then approached Kuwait eastward from an unexpected direction—from inside Iraq.

Attacking from the west cut off the enemy’s supply lines and his avenues of retreat. This became known as the "left hook," or, as Gen. Schwarzkopf called it, the "Hail Mary" play. The main attack force consisted of U.S. Army, French, and British forces, while secondary operations were conducted by Egyptian, Kuwaiti, Saudi, Bahraini, Qatari, Omani, Syrian, and United Arab Emirates forces, as well as those of the USMC.

Cease Fire

Kuwait was liberated on February 27, 1991. The coalition’s objectives having been met, a cease-fire was declared for 28 February at 0800 hours, exactly one hundred hours after ground hostilities began. On March 3, a cease-fire conference was held at Safwan. All coalition demands were agreed to by the Iraqis, allowing their forces to disengage near Basra. By the time that Gen. Schwarzkopf returned to his MacDill headquarters in April, he had become an international figure. As one indication of his standing in the world community, Queen Elizabeth II sailed her royal yacht Britannia to Tampa and, on May 20, made him an Honorary Knight Commander in the Military Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.

Gen. Joseph P. Hoar Takes Command

The fourth USCINCCENT was Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, USMC. Taking over from Gen. Schwarzkopf on August 9, 1991, he inherited a command that no longer had to justify its existence. Moreover, having been USCENTCOM Chief of Staff from the fall of 1988 through June 1990, he was intimately familiar with its activities. Many of USCENTCOM’s operations in the years after the conclusion of the Gulf War dealt with Iraq’s continued intransigence. Maritime interception operations, begun on August 17, 1990 in the early days of DESERT SHIELD, continued through the tenure of Gen. Hoar and his successors. These operations enforced United Nations sanctions against Iraq and were performed by multinational naval forces patrolling assigned areas and performing boardings and inspections. When the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr opened in July 1993, maritime interception operations were reinstituted in the Northern Arabian Gulf. By that time, more than 19,150 ships had been challenged and over 8,250 merchant ships had been boarded and inspected by warships from Australia, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

No-Fly Zones Established

Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, which began in August 1992, was part of the international community’s response to continued Iraqi noncompliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 688. This resolution condemned Saddam Hussein’s repression of the Iraqi civilian population, including his air and ground attacks against insurgents in Southeastern Iraq. USCENTCOM established a no-fly zone south of the 32nd parallel to monitor Iraqi compliance and established Joint Task Force-Southwest Asia to command and control the entire operation. This approach had already been used successfully in Operation PROVIDE COMFORT in northern Iraq to protect the Kurds from Iraqi reprisals.

No-Fly Zones Challenged, Inspectors Defied, Iraqi Facilities Bombed

Iraq complied with the no-fly zone for several months, but began to challenge it late in 1992 and early in 1993. In one incident, a U.S. F-16 shot down an Iraqi MiG-23 after it violated the no-fly zone. When Iraq persisted in flying in the zone and threatened coalition aircraft with antiaircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles, USCENTCOM forces took decisive action. On January 13 and 18, 1993, SOUTHERN WATCH aircraft conducted strikes against selected Iraqi air defense targets threatening coalition forces. Meanwhile, on January 17, the U.S. Navy conducted a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) strike against the Zaafaraniyah nuclear fabrication because of Iraq’s refusal to comply with United Nations nuclear inspection requirements. Four surface vessels fired a total of 44 TLAM cruise missiles against the facility, rendering it unusable. Another U.S. Navy strike was launched on June 27 against the Baghdad headquarters of the Iraqi intelligence service in response to the discovery of Iraqi plans to assassinate former President Bush during his visit to Kuwait. SOUTHERN WATCH prevented Iraqi aircraft from conducting large-scale offensive actions against the people of southwestern Iraq, although Iraqi ground operations continued.

A more defensive deployment during the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War was the movement of Patriot air defense batteries to the region. In response to requests from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain, USCENTCOM rapidly deployed Patriot missile systems to those countries in 1992 within a few days of initial alert notification. This strategic deployment underscored the U.S. commitment to the region and America’s willingness to ensure the security of its friends. The batteries in Kuwait and Bahrain were withdrawn in December 1992 only to be redeployed in January 1993 as a result of Iraqi noncompliance with the no-fly zone restrictions. Patriot batteries remained in Saudi Arabia to provide continuous aircraft and missile defense coverage to key ports and population centers. Continued deployment of the Patriot air defense system to the Arabian Gulf provided opportunities for interoperability training and promoted initiatives in collective air defense among USCENTCOM’s partners.

Somalia Mission

Aside from unfinished business with Iraq, the most significant challenge facing Gen. Hoar concerned the East African nation of Somalia. There had been no national government in Somalia since the departure of former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre on January 26, 1991, and the country was riven by competing clans fighting a many-sided civil war. To relieve the widespread starvation caused by food shortages and an inadequate food distribution system, USCENTCOM began Operation PROVIDE RELIEF in August 1992 to supply aid to Somalia and northeastern Kenya. On August 17, 1992, USCENTCOM had deployed a Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team consisting of 35 people to Mombasa, Kenya, and within three days established Joint Task Force PROVIDE RELIEF. Its initial tasks were to conduct airfield and security surveys, establish communications, provide for flight clearances, and coordinate assistance with relief agencies. On August 21, 1992, USCENTCOM flew its first food delivery mission to Wajir, Kenya, beginning a massive effort that continued through the end of the year. American forces involved in Operation PROVIDE RELIEF peaked at 858 personnel and 14 C-130 aircraft. By the end of 1992, they had flown 1,699 missions and delivered nearly 20,000 metric tons of food and supplies.

In support of the United Nations Organization in Somalia (UNOSOM), USCENTCOM helped to move a 500-man Pakistani contingent of United Nations peacekeeping forces to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, from 12 September 12 through October 3, 1992. The USS Tarawa (LHA-1) Amphibious Ready Group provided tactical command and control of U.S. air operations in that effort and then turned these duties over to the USS Tripoli (LPH-1) Amphibious Ready Group.
By late November 1992, it was clear that airlift alone would not be sufficient to get relief supplies to those who desperately needed them. On Thanksgiving Day, President Bush pledged to send U.S. troops to Somalia to provide the security needed for the food supplies to reach starving Somalis, who by then were dying at the rate of a thousand per day. Operation RESTORE HOPE began on 9 December 1992 in support of United Nations Security Council Resolution 794.

USCENTCOM led a multinational coalition known as the Unified Task Force (UNITAF), whose mission was to provide security for key transportation and distribution centers, insure security of relief convoys and of relief organization operations, and assist those relief organizations. As the new Clinton Administration took office in January, UNITAF worked to accomplish its security mission and expeditiously turn over control of operations in Somalia to the United Nations.
UNITAF provided security for relief operations through May 1993 while the United Nations undertook the difficult task of creating UNOSOM II. Its task was to meet the unprecedented challenge of performing peacemaking operations under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. Meanwhile, humanitarian airlift of food and other supplies under Operation PROVIDE RELIEF continued through February 28, 1993, totaling nearly 2,500 missions flown and 28,000 metric tons of relief supplies delivered.

By March 1993, UNITAF had established nine humanitarian relief sectors in southern Somalia. Centered around major towns and feeding centers, these sectors were key to the transition from UNITAF to UNOSOM II as they were gradually turned over from USCENTCOM forces to those of other nations. Under UNOSOM II, France assumed responsibility for Oddur, Canada for Belet Uen, Italy for Gialalassi, Morocco for Baledogle, Australia for Baidoa, Belgium for Kismayo, and Botswana for Bardera. During the transition, UNITAF strength peaked at 38,300 personnel, of whom 25,800 were U.S. forces.
In addition to conducting weapons sweeps, security patrols, and convoy escorts, UNITAF forces carried out civic action projects in all of the humanitarian relief sectors. U.S. Army engineers and Navy Seabees drilled dozens of wells and built or repaired hospitals, orphanages, schools, and over 1,200 miles of roads. Medical personnel from the coalition and relief agencies treated thousands of Somalis for a wide range of problems.

On March 26, 1993, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 814 officially authorizing the creation of UNOSOM II. The UNITAF staff developed concise and detailed instructions for the turnover to UNOSOM II, bringing about a seamless transition. On May 4, the UNITAF commander, Lt. Gen. Robert B. Johnston, USMC, turned over his operations to the new Lieutenant Gen. Cevik Bir. By then, most U.S. forces had redeployed from Somalia, but a residual American presence remained to support the United Nations command. This presence consisted of some members of the UNOSOM II staff, a logistics support command of about 2,800 personnel, and a quick reaction force of about 1,200 troops.

Shortly after the United Nations took over the relief operations in Somalia, security in the capital of Mogadishu began to deteriorate, although UNOSOM II operations in the countryside were relatively successful. Forces led by Somali Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed were largely responsible for the unrest in Mogadishu and increased hostility toward UNOSOM II forces. At the behest of the United Nations, UNOSOM II was given an expanded mission that outstripped its available resources. This was exactly the kind of "mission creep" which Gen. Hoar had avoided by insuring that UNITAF had a clear and unambiguous mission statement. On June 5, 1993, Pakistani forces engaged in confiscating weapons in accordance with their expanded mission were ambushed by Somali militiamen loyal to Gen. Aideed and 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed. The quick reaction force responded to UNOSOM II’s request for assistance and was able to rescue a beleaguered Pakistani unit.

As a result of this attack, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 837 authorizing UNOSOM II to "take all necessary measures against all those responsible for the armed attack of 5 June 1993." Some of these measures included quick reaction force and AC-130 gunship operations against weapons storage facilities and command and control facilities, as well as efforts to capture Gen. Aideed and other leaders of his Somali National Alliance. During these UNOSOM II operations, U.S. forces suffered a number of casualties, including four military police killed by a command-detonated mine on August 8. On August 22, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin directed the deployment of Task Force Ranger to Somalia to enforce the United Nations resolution.

Violence erupted again on September 5, when Somali militia attacked Nigerian forces. Task Force Ranger conducted several operations against the militia in September and succeeded in capturing a few key leaders. On September 25, however, three American crewmembers were killed when their helicopter was shot down by Somali militia, and additional casualties were suffered during the ensuing rescue. The most significant combat action took place on October 3, when Task Force Ranger captured six of Aideed’s lieutenants and several militiamen in a daylight raid. During withdrawal operations, the Somalis shot down two UH-60 helicopters and U.S. forces remaining on the ground came under heavy fire as they attempted to carry out rescue operations and consolidate their positions. During the intense firefight that followed, approximately 300 Somalis were killed and hundreds more were wounded. A total of 16 Rangers were killed and 83 wounded before a relief column of quick reaction force soldiers, Pakistanis, and Malaysians was able to withdraw the forces to safety early on October 4.

As a result of this incident, President Clinton announced that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Somalia by March 31, 1994. Meanwhile, additional U.S. personnel and heavy equipment were deployed to Somalia to provide increased military capability to protect existing forces and to support UNOSOM II. Joint Task Force Somalia was activated on September 20, 1993 to provide force protection, support United Nations operations, secure lines of communication, and redeploy U.S. forces by the President’s deadline. About 3,000 troops were deployed ashore in Somalia, along with tanks and other armored vehicles. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) and an escort had arrived on station near Mogadishu. Additional forces included the USS New Orleans (LPH-1) and USS Guadalcanal (LPH-7) Amphibious Ready Groups with their associated Marine Expeditionary Units.

While thus protecting U.S. and UNOSOM II forces, Gen. Hoar was simultaneously preparing for the redeployment of U.S. and designated coalition forces. One of the amphibious ready groups withdrew in November, and all carriers were withdrawn by December 1993. American presence on the ground was also reduced, from 8,107 at the beginning of December to 5,582 at the end of the year. Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia was completed on March 25, 1994.

Gen. J. H. Binford Peay III Takes Command

On August 5, 1994, Gen. J. H. Binford Peay III, United States Army, became the fifth USCINCCENT. As commander of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) during the Gulf War, he was well acquainted with USCENTCOM’s area of responsibility, doctrine, and tactics. He continued USCENTCOM’s peacetime strategy designed to deter aggression and protect U.S. national security interests. These interests centered on the uninterrupted flow of Arabian Gulf oil, freedom of navigation, access to commercial markets, security of coalition partners and other allies, and regional peace and security.

Shortly after taking over as USCINCCENT, Gen. Peay developed a new, expanded strategy for his area of responsibility. This new theater strategy was based on maintaining regional access through the three traditional pillars of forward presence, combined exercises, and security assistance programs, augmented by two additional pillars: power projection and readiness to fight. By emphasizing deterrence through coalition building and military-to-military access, this strategy promoted stability and protected U.S. interests within USCENTCOM’s region.

Iraq Threatens Again

This new strategy soon encountered its first test in October 1994, when the command received a renewed challenge from Saddam Hussein. In response to a clear threat of Iraqi aggression against Kuwait and associated troop movements in Southern Iraq, Gen. Peay deployed forces to his area of responsibility in Operation VIGILANT WARRIOR. By the end of October, USCENTCOM had deployed more than 28,000 U.S. troops and over 200 additional aircraft to the region. Augmented by French and British aircraft, these forces were based in the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. Coalition forces amounted to more than 300 aircraft and 20 naval combatants. VIGILANT WARRIOR marked the first time that USCINCCENT, a USCENTCOM headquarters element, and component commanders and staffs had deployed overseas since Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM four years earlier.

On October 15, 1994, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 949. It condemned Iraqi aggression and demanded that Iraq withdraw its forces to their earlier positions. Five days later, the United States backed the United Nations resolution with a strong demarche of its own. In the face of this determined response, the Iraqi regime backed away from the crisis and pulled its forces north of the 32nd parallel, as required. By early November, the Secretary of Defense authorized redeployment of those U.S. forces no longer needed in view of the reduced threat.

Back To Somalia

Shortly after the conclusion of VIGILANT WARRIOR, USCENTCOM found itself involved once again in Somalia, this time to cover the withdrawal of UNOSOM II in accordance with a United Nations decision to pull its forces out of that troubled country. After the withdrawal of U.S. forces on March 25, 1994, the United States had maintained a liaison office Mogadishu in an ultimately futile attempt to further the process of political reconciliation in Somalia. Security for this office was provided by a Fleet Antiterrorist Support Team (FAST) platoon from the Marine Corps Security Force Battalion. As conditions in Mogadishu continued to deteriorate, the liaison office relocated to Nairobi and the FAST platoon redeployed to Mombasa, Kenya, on September 15, with the latter returning to home station three days later. President Clinton announced late in 1994 that U.S. forces would assist in the withdrawal of UNOSOM forces from Somalia.

Operation UNITED SHIELD officially began with the issuance of execution and deployment orders on January 1, 1995. Planning had begun earlier at United Nations headquarters in New York, allowing USCENTCOM to orchestrate the withdrawal of a multinational force of Egyptians, Pakistanis, and Americans from Somalia with minimum risk. The command formed a combined task force under Lieutenant Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, then commander of the I Marine Expeditionary Force and later to become the sixth USCINCCENT. This force was to conduct a five-phased military operation to bring out UNOSOM II personnel and U.S. equipment from Somalia. By the time UNITED SHIELD began, Indian, Zimbabwean, and Malaysian units had already redeployed in December 1994, leaving 6,200 of the approximately 13,000 UNOSOM II personnel to be withdrawn. These people were then stationed at Mogadishu, mainly at the international airport and the new seaport.

Safe withdrawal from this dangerous urban environment required phased redeployment of units, with the remaining forces conducting rear-guard operations. To conduct UNITED SHIELD, Gen. Peay deployed more than 4,000 personnel supported by more than 40 combat support aircraft, five naval combatants, and support vessels. Military operations consisted of naval deployments, airlift, passage of lines, and an amphibious landing. Offshore patrolled a coalition task force of U.S., Italian, Pakistani, French, British, and Malaysian naval vessels.

On February 8, 1995, the combined task force deployed an aerial quick reaction force to cover the redeployment of a Pakistani brigade and a Bangladeshi battalion from Mogadishu airport. This was followed on 22 February by the withdrawal of an Egyptian brigade from Mogadishu by air and sea. The final withdrawal phase began on February 28 with an amphibious assault by 1,800 U.S. and 350 Italian Marines at the eastern portion of the Mogadishu seaport to secure a lodgment area. These forces provided a rear guard for the departure of the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and retrograde movement of all U.S. equipment, then completed their own withdrawal on March 3. As a result of careful planning and international teamwork, Operation UNITED SHIELD resulted in the safe withdrawal of 6,200 UNOSOM II personnel and 100 combat vehicles without a single casualty or significant damage to any equipment.

Renewed Tension in Iraq

Later in 1995, tensions again reached a peak in Iraq when two of Saddam Hussein’s sons-in-law defected with their families to Jordan. These defectors brought revelations of growing frustration among members of the Iraqi regime and validation of pending military action against Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Drawing on the lessons learned from Operation VIGILANT WARRIOR a year earlier, VIGILANT SENTINEL involved increasing alert for designated units in the United States, accelerating scheduled military exercises with Jordan, and moving prepositioned equipment from the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to USCENTCOM’s area of responsibility. Through its combination of prompt detection, GCC unity, and rapid movement of forces to the region, Operation VIGILANT SENTINEL once again deterred Iraqi adventurism.

Terrorist attacks against USCENTCOM

Terrorist attacks against USCENTCOM personnel had lasting effects on the command’s operations. Five Americans were killed on 15 November 1995 when a car bomb went off in front of the Office of Program Management-Saudi Arabian National Guard (OPM-SANG) in Riyadh. Less than a year after the OPM-SANG bombing, terrorists truck-bombed the Khobar Towers residential complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996, killing 19 U.S. service members. These tragedies resulted in the relocation of U.S. forces to installations more easily defended against a terrorist threat. Operation DESERT FOCUS began in August 1996 as part of an agreement between the U.S. Secretary of Defense, William Perry, and the Saudi Minister of Defense and Aviation, Prince Sultan. The multinational Joint Task Force Southwest Asia moved its air operations from Riyadh and Dhahran to al Kharj. In four months, USCENTCOM transferred nearly 5,000 people, 78 aircraft, and maintenance facilities to an unfinished area of Prince Sultan Air Base. In addition to relocating personnel to more secure locations, DESERT FOCUS reduced the command’s footprint by eliminating nonessential billets and returning dependents to the United States, hardened existing facilities, reduced transportation vulnerability, and institutionalized antiterrorism programs. Saudi cooperation in these moves was unprecedented and reinforced its close relations with the United States.


Iraq continued to be the central focus of USCENTCOM combat operations. On August 31, 1996, elements of the Iraqi army attacked and captured the town of Irbil in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq. This renewed Iraqi aggression, led by a Republican Guard mechanized division with the support of regular army troops, alarmed the United States and its coalition partners. Saddam Hussein threatened GCC members if they assisted the United States, while Iraqi air defense forces launched surface-to-air missiles against U.S. aircraft patrolling the northern and southern no-fly zones. In response to the seizure of Irbil, Gen. Peay assessed an increased threat to American interests and, in close consultation with the National Command Authorities, began to develop military responses to deter further Iraqi aggression.

To send a clear signal of international condemnation of Iraq’s violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 688, which prohibited the repression of the Kurds in the north and the Marsh Arabs in the south, USCENTCOM planned and executed Operation DESERT STRIKE. In the early hours of September 4, 1996, the command launched a series of cruise missile attacks against surface-to-air missiles and command and control facilities in southern Iraq. A total of 12 cruise missiles were launched from the USS Laboon (DDG-58) of Task Force 50 and B-52 bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. Using these precision unmanned weapons minimized the risk of collateral damage and aircrew exposure to Iraqi air defenses. To back up this unmistakable signal of American resolve,
USCENTCOM deployed F-117 and F-16CJ aircraft, a heavy brigade task force, and a second aircraft carrier to the region.

On the diplomatic front, the United States and the United Kingdom issued demarches that expanded the southern no-fly zone from the 32nd to the 33rd parallel and promised disproportionate response if Iraqi air defense sites were repaired. The expanded no-fly zone reached the outskirts of southern Baghdad and forced relocation of all tactical aircraft in Iraq to more northerly bases, reducing the air threat to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and coalition aircraft flying in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. As a result of DESERT STRIKE, the command’s ability to protect both its Gulf partners and its aircrew members was improved.
Perhaps Gen. Peay’s most innovative contribution to USCENTCOM and joint thinking was the concept of "near-continuous presence." Consisting of Joint Task Force Southwest Asia and the forces of all four services, including special operations, the near-continuous presence of U.S. forces in USCENTCOM’s area of responsibility promoted stability, deterred aggression, and facilitated the transition from peace to war. The concept exploited the core competencies of each military service and integrated them into an effective forward-deployed force that provided both deterrence and engagement. Having such a continuous presence in its theater, "near" or otherwise, marked a tremendous advance over the "over-the-horizon" concept that characterized USCENTCOM during the 1980s.

Gen. Anthony C. Zinni Takes Command

On August 13, 1997, Gen. Zinni became the sixth USCINCCENT and the first to have served previously as Deputy Commander in Chief. He had also been deputy commanding general of the combined task force during Operation PROVIDE COMFORT immediately after the Gulf War and, as mentioned earlier, commander of the combined task force for Operation UNITED SHIELD. With this wealth of experience, he was intimately familiar with all aspects of USCENTCOM’s operations, many of which had grown out of the Gulf War, including SOUTHERN WATCH and the ongoing maritime interception operations.
Rejecting a "one size fits all" strategy for USCENTCOM, Gen. Zinni developed strategies specific to each subregion of his area of responsibility. These included different engagement plans for the countries of the Arabian Gulf and peninsula and those of the Horn of Africa, as well as tailored strategies for south and central Asia and for Egypt and Jordan. Iraq remained the near-term threat to U.S. interests in the region, while Iran was potentially the most dangerous long-term threat. Other threats were posed by weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

One nonmilitary threat was posed by natural disasters. USCENTCOM conducted Operation NOBLE RESPONSE in February 1998 to provide disaster relief to victims of flooding in Kenya. Other humanitarian operations included demining in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Jordan. On August 7, terrorists bombed the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania, leading to Operation RESOLUTE RESPONSE. A joint task force composed of U.S. military forces from 27 active and reserve units deployed immediately to Nairobi to provide comprehensive and effective recovery support. At the direction of the National Command Authorities, USCENTCOM responded to the bombings by conducting strikes against the terrorist infrastructure and command and control facilities of Usama Bin Laden, whose organization had been directly linked to the embassy bombings.


Iraq remained the focus of attention of USCENTCOM’s operations. Saddam Hussein’s continued intransigence and refusal to comply with United Nations inspection requirements led to coalition preparations for air strikes against Iraq. In a personal effort to resolve the crisis, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, traveled to Baghdad. On February 24, 1998, Saddam shook the secretary-general’s hand and agreed to comply fully with the United Nations inspection regime. When this agreement unraveled a few months later, USCENTCOM initiated Operation DESERT THUNDER on November 11, 1998. At the direction of the National Command Authorities, USCENTCOM began to deploy forces and posture in-theater assets for strike operations. This highly visible deployment resulted in Iraq’s eventual, but short-lived, compliance with United Nations inspection requirements.

Finally, in December 1998, USCENTCOM launched Operation DESERT FOX. This four-day operation aimed at installations associated with development of weapons of mass destruction, units providing security to such programs, and Iraq’s national command and control network. Additional targets included selected Republican Guard facilities, airfields, and the Basrah oil refinery that was involved in production of illegal gas and oil exports. Iraq’s integrated air defenses and surface-to-air missiles were also heavily struck to protect coalition forces. As a result of these strikes, Iraq’s ability to build and deliver weapons of mass destruction was set back by several years.

Since the success of DESERT FOX, Joint Task Force Southwest Asia has continued to enforce the southern no-fly zone in Iraq under Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, even as USEUCOM continues to enforce the northern no-fly zone with NORTHERN WATCH. As of January 15, 2000, SOUTHERN WATCH forces have flown nearly 240,000 sorties enforcing the no-fly zone in southern Iraq. Another demonstration of U.S. resolve to preserve stability in the region is Operation DESERT SPRING, which secures the commitment of U.S. ground forces and their support facilities to the defense of Kuwait.

From September though November 1999, Gen. Zinni orchestrated the command’s large-scale overseas exercise, BRIGHT STAR 99/00, the latest in a series begun by the RDJTF in 1980. Conducted in Egypt, this exercise involved forces from the host country and the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. Eleven participating countries, 33 observer nations, and 70,000 troops took part in this field training exercise which emphasized interoperability, coalition operations, and computer simulation of exercise events. Large-scale maneuver operations and a demonstration of USCENTCOM’s amphibious capabilities highlighted this latest BRIGHT STAR exercise, which also underlined regional stability and cultural interaction.

On October 1, 1999, USCENTCOM assumed responsibility for all U.S. military activities in the five Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, all former republics of the Soviet Union. Gen. Zinni ensured that these five countries were integrated into USCENTCOM’s overall collective engagement strategy. According to this strategy, "an ounce of proactive engagement protection is cheaper than a pound of warfighting cure." As a military diplomat, Gen. Zinni was directly involved in efforts to defuse long-standing conflicts between countries in his area of responsibility before they lead to all-out war. His efforts were successful in maintaining stability and protecting U.S. interests in this volatile region of the world.

Gen. Tommy R. Franks Takes Command

Gen. Tommy R. Franks, U.S. Army, became the seventh USCINCCENT on 6 July 2000. Facing similar challenges as his predecessors, Gen. Franks conducted Operation DETERMINED RESPONSE after the terrorist attack on the destroyer USS Cole in the port of Aden on 12 October 2000. With increased emphasis on force protection and combating global terrorism, USCENTCOM continues its active engagement in some of the most volatile parts of the world. Given its more than 20 years of evolutionary progress rising out of the former RDJTF and its intense involvement in the Central region during the Gulf War, the command has entered the new century with a proven track record of accomplishment and a proud heritage of achievement.