Book Review: Storm on the Horizon: Khafji—The Battle that Changed the Course of the Gulf War


by David J. Morris

New York: Free Press, 2004. Pp. 317. Maps, glossary, biblio., index. $25.00. ISBN:0-7432-3557-6

This is a nuts-and-bolts, you-are-there tactical study of the Battle of Khafji, the first serious combat involving U.S. ground forces in the first Gulf War, back in 1991. In the battle (for those who don’t remember) the Iraqi army, having invaded and conquered Kuwait, crossed the border and attacked American forces guarding Saudi Arabia. The two-pronged assault was too late: the Iraqis launched it after the U.S. Marine Corps had set up defensive positions and the Coalition had brought in major air, naval, and ground assets. The result was a stunning reverse for the Iraqis: they were driven back decisively, the Americans suffering more losses on the ground from “friendly fire” than from the Iraqis.

The attack was, as noted above, two-pronged. The western attack emerged from the desert of Kuwait and struck a deep reconnaissance platoon that was watching the border, backed by a company of LAV-25s. The recon platoon was stationed athwart a break in the berm (an 18-foot high obstacle built by the Saudi customs forces to hamper smugglers) at a road that led to the interior of Saudi Arabia. The attack of the Iraqi armored forces and the subsequent melee involving the recon guys, the LAV-25s, and the Iraqis, is covered in considerable detail. Likewise is the other axis of attack, which moved along the coast and captured the small city of Khafji, trapping two teams of a Marine Corps Air Naval Gun Liaison Company (ANGLICO) in the city. Those Marines watched the battle, directed U.S. air and artillery strikes on nearby Iraqi forces (one of the attacks was so close that some of the spotting Marines were wounded) and then, when the opportunity presented itself, escaped.

This book is unusual in that it deals with the Gulf War at the level of the individual soldier, in contrast with most books, which attempt to discuss the politics and the higher-level maneuvering that led up to the fighting. It’s also worth noting that this book is by a retired Marine officer, so you get the usual biases. The Iraqis and all of the Coalition Arabs are lousy shots, incompetent soldiers who might be brave but are untrained and inept. The U.S. Army is especially detestable, with Special Forces soldiers abandoning their Marine counterparts because they think there’s going to be an Iraqi assault, and strewing millions of dollars of equipment around the theater for the Marines to “expropriate.” The Air Force indiscriminately bombs anyone below them. The author does give the air attacks credit for degrading the Iraqi forces’ ability to resist U.S. attacks, but it’s only for the purpose of showing how insignificant the U.S. Army’s victory in the main war actually was, in the author’s view. The famous “Hail Mary” assault is dismissively referred to as “anti-climactic.”

I did have a few problems with the book itself. There were numerous bits of slang, jargon and other terminology that a layman might have trouble interpreting, and while there’s a glossary, it doesn’t come close to defining and explaining everything in the book. For instance, in the opening passages, the Marine deep recon platoon has Iraqis fire an RPG at their “pos”; there’s no entry or explanation to show that “pos” is short for position. One thing I could have stood having explained to me: I know what an LAV-25 is, and I generally know what it does and so forth. However, the author repeatedly says that the crews stopped and “erected” the turret of their vehicle. I’ve looked on the internet, and no one talks of the turret erecting or what it means. Not that I’m an expert, but if I don’t know, I’m guessing a few other people won’t either.

These criticisms aside, the book is interesting in that it gives a grunt’s-eye-view of the battle and its consequences. The author interviewed many of the Marines who participated in the fighting, and apparently consulted every piece of paper on the war he could get his hands on, if it related to the battle in any way. There’s har

Reviewer: David W. Nicholas   

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