U.S. and coalition forces invaded Iraq 13 years ago today, kicking off a war that would last until the end of 2011.
President George W. Bush had given Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein an ultimatum to cede power and leave the country by early-morning Mar. 20, 2003. American forces stepped off the line of departure 90 minutes after the clock ran out.
An F-117A Nighthawk drops a laser-guided bomb during training. Photo: Air Force Master Sgt. Edward Snyder
Jets and Tomahawk missiles struck government and military targets deep within the country, including some within Baghdad. The first strike was conducted by F-117 stealth fighters against Dora Farms, a retreat near Baghdad where Saddam and two of his sons were believed to be that morning.
Most of Dora Farms was destroyed in the attack, but Saddam had left the area long before the bombs fell.
Saddam quickly went into hiding as CIA operatives and special operations troops called in airstrikes throughout Iraq. Fearful that the Iraqi military would destroy infrastructure and set traps for advancing troops like they did in the First Persian Gulf War, the coalition sent in ground forces just hours after the first airstrikes.
British Royal Marines prepare for the invasion of Iraq. Photo: Ministry of Defence Dave Coombs
U.S. soldiers under V Corps and Marines with the I Marine Expeditionary Force invaded from Kuwait into Iraq towards Baghdad.
At the same time, U.S. Marines, British forces, and Polish commandos began an assault over land and sea against Al Faw peninsula and the port city of Umm Qasr. The area is home to a large amount of oil infrastructure and it controls waterways that would be vital to moving ships loaded with supplies into the country.
Just behind the front lines, Spanish troops moved into Iraq to provide humanitarian assistance.
Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. John L. Houghton, Jr.
The initial invasion ran from Mar. 20 to May 1 and was an unqualified success. While Saddam Hussein managed to escape into hiding, his forces put up little resistance. U.S. and allied forces were able to capture the entire country with little damage to infrastructure. American troops were pushing into Baghdad and walking American flags through palaces owned by Saddam by early April, just weeks after the invasion began.
Of course, things got more complicated after that, to put it mildly. Sectarian violence and a brutal insurgency against the new government of Iraq and the coalition forces would drag out the war for another 8 years.
But that's another story . . . .