Though the long-running war between Iran and Iraq had ended in a United Nations-brokered ceasefire in August 1988, by mid-1990 the two states had yet to begin negotiating a permanent peace treaty. When their foreign ministers met in Geneva that July, prospects for peace seemed bright. Two weeks later, however, Saddam Hussein delivered a speech in which he accused neighboring Kuwait of siphoning crude oil from their common border, claiming that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were conspiring to keep oil prices low in an effort to pander to Western oil-buying nations.

In addition to Hussein’s incendiary speech, Iraq had begun amassing troops on Kuwait’s border. Alarmed by these actions, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt initiated negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait, but Hussein broke off the negotiations after only two hours, and on August 2, 1990 ordered the invasion of Kuwait. Hussein’s assumption that his fellow Arab states would stand by him proved to be a miscalculation. Alarmed by these actions, two-thirds of the 21 members of the Arab League condemned Iraq’s act of aggression, and Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, along with Kuwait’s government-in-exile, turned to the United States and other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for support.

U.S. President George H.W. Bush immediately condemned the invasion, as did the governments of Britain and the Soviet Union. On November 29, 1990, the U.N. Security Council authorized the use of “all necessary means” of force against Iraq if it did not withdraw from Kuwait by the following January 15. Hussein defied the Security Council, and early on the morning of January 17, 1991 the Persian Gulf War began with a massive U.S.-led air offensive known as Operation Desert Storm. The U.S. was accompanied by troops sent by NATO allies as well as Egypt and several other Arab nations. The coalition effort benefited from the latest military technology, including Stealth bombers, Cruise missiles, so-called “Smart” bombs with laser-guidance systems and infrared night-bombing equipment. The Iraqi air force was either destroyed early on or opted out of combat under the relentless attack.

After 42 days of relentless attacks by the allied coalition in the air and on the ground, President Bush declared a cease-fire on February 28; by that time, most Iraqi forces in Kuwait had either surrendered or fled. Though the Persian Gulf War was initially considered an unqualified success for the international coalition, simmering conflict in the troubled region led to a second Gulf War–known as the Iraq War–that began in 2003.

Explore Operation Desert Storm, the 42-day U.S. led air offensive in response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Here’s a look at some of the episodes:

  • Look at how Saddam Hussein’s misunderstanding of the international political climate led to his invasion of Kuwait in Saddam’s Invasion/Desert One.
  • A generational leap in technology and strategy is put to the test over enemy airspace in Iraq as the air combat of the future begins with America’s first large-scale air offensive since the Vietnam War in Dogfights of Desert Storm.
  • General Norman Schwarzkopf was the hot-tempered commander tasked with driving Hussein out of Kuwait. The desert terrain is tough, the enemy is ruthless and White House orders are impossible. Explore the story in Battle of Desert Storm.

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