The Army built a fake base to fool Saddam Hussein — and it worked
In August 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army invaded and occupied neighboring Kuwait in a move which brought swift condemnation from much of the rest of the world. In response, U.S. President George H.W. Bush ordered planes, ships, and troops brought in to Saudi Arabia as quickly as possible to help mount a defense against possible Iraqi aggression. As Iraqi troops massed at the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, Operation Desert Shield began in full force, as the Coalition forces grew to 48 nations.
The United States isn’t known for its passivity when it comes to aggression against its interests, however. The U.S. was actively planning a response to the Iraqi invasion and a subsequent liberation of Kuwait, which happened between January and February 1991 in what became known as Operation Desert Storm.
During the military build-up, planners wanted to fool Saddam into thinking the Coalition forces would invade Kuwait near the “boot heel” of the country, while planning to really hit the Iraqi occupation forces with a “left hook” strategy. The centerpiece of this deception effort was at Forward Operating Base Weasel, an effort unlike anything since Operation Fortitude during WWII, the misinformation campaign designed to cover the real location for the D-Day invasions.
FOB Weasel was what Rick Atkinson, author of Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War called “a Potemkin base… giving the impression of 130,000 troops across a hundred square kilometers.” Army truck drivers wearing the red berets of paratroopers would shuttle vehicles between FOB Weasel and logistic bases.
The U.S. army’s XVIII Airborne Corps established FOB Weasel near the phony invasion area. They set up a network of small, fake camps with a few dozen soldiers using radios operated by computers to create radio traffic, fake messages between fake headquarters, as well as smoke generators and loudspeakers blasting fake Humvee, tank, and truck noises to simulate movement. Inflatable tanks with PVC turrets and helicopters with fiberglass rotors were lined up on the ground as well. Inflatable fuel bladders, Camo netting, and heat strips to fool infrared cameras completed the illusion. The Americans even taped “Egyptian” radio traffic messages about the supposed American presence to be intercepted by the Iraqis.
As late as February 21st, Iraqi intelligence still thought the Americans were near the Kuwaiti boot heel, well after the Iraqis were expelled from Kuwait.