When Gen. “Stormin'” Norman Schwarzkopf was preparing for a counter-offensive against Iraqi invaders in Kuwait, he was disappointed by the initial plans put forward by his staff. The plans looked, to him, like they might fail — or at least require many more lives, time, and lost equipment than any coalition nation would be happy losing.
Into the breach stepped the “Jedi Knights,” graduates of a new Army training program, the School of Advanced Military Studies, that emphasized creative thinking combined with a deep understanding of maneuver, logistics, and the art of war. These Jedis worked with other planners and commanders to make seemingly impossible maneuvers, like the vaunted “left hook” that crippled Iraqi defenses, possible.
The SAMS graduates were like this — except for the mask and the lightsaber and the robes.
(Photo by Simon King)
The story started in September, 1990, when Schwarzkopf put out the call for new blood on his planning team. Four recent SAMS graduates were sent straight to him, arriving in theater within weeks of the call. When they were assembled, Schwarzkopf gave them a seemingly impossible task: Draft a new offensive war plan within two weeks while not telling anyone what they were doing or asking any questions that could expose their purpose. For the four top planners, led by Col. Joseph Purvis, this presented a series of challenges. They couldn’t tell any lower-level staff why they needed to know details, like exactly how many trucks a unit had or how quickly their slowest vehicles could move on sand up a hill.
Meanwhile, they were tasked with planning an offensive using a force comprised of over 30 nations’ militaries — all with different equipment and organizational structures — against 43 Iraqi Divisions dug into desert terrain.
I mean, everyone was glad for the help, but the more tank types you bring, the more details you have to keep track of.
(Photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. H. H. Deffner)
If that wasn’t challenging enough, someone up their chain (many civilian and military leaders have claimed credit since the war) had envisioned a “Left Hook” attack that required an entire corps to secretly move through the massive desert with limited ability to resupply while facing a numerically superior force.
But this was the exact challenge that the year-long SAMS program prepared graduates for, infusing into them a deep understanding of strategic planning. Purvis’s team at Central Command reached out to other SAMS graduates at both American corps and every subordinate division they could find and set up a backdoor network for asking their detailed questions about equipment numbers and unit strengths.
What emerged from the planning cell, working with troops at Third Army, VII Corps, and XVIII Airborne Corps, was a plan for forces that focused on breaking the Republican Guard units and other forces and had little emphasis on holding ground. ‘Envelope and destroy,’ not ‘clear and hold.’
In other words, rather than focusing on liberating Kuwait and destroying Iraqi forces in the process, the coalition would focus on breaking Iraqi forces and allow liberation to naturally follow. Coalition units wouldn’t need to stay in place and hold ground.
The SAMS graduates across the force worked with the four planners at top to create realistic timelines for movements, emphasizing speed but acknowledging environmental facts, like how an armored column needs time to re-form, refuel, and rearm for attacks after long drives through the desert.
The “Left Hook” was a massive undertaking that needed to be accomplished with secrecy and finesse so the Iraqis would keep their attentions to the east until it was too late.
(Photo by U.S. Navy PHC D. W. Holmes II)
They recommended a large logistics buildup to support a “short duration, high tempo, high consumption ground offensive.”
Translation: If you throw everything at them in the first week, there won’t be anything left to fight against (or with) in the second.
Plans were drawn up that utilized most divisions for their specific strengths. Airborne forces moved throughout the battlefield, guarding supply lines and keeping isolated Iraqi forces cutoff. Air assault soldiers used their helicopters to strike deep into Iraqi territory and disrupt defenses.
VII Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. Tommy Franks, was the largest armored force the U.S. had ever assembled and was the main effort for cracking the back of Iraqi defenses, crushing the Republican Guard and setting the conditions for liberation.
Iraqi forces had the advantage of being on defense but, uh, still had a rough go of it.
(U.S. Department of Defense)
What followed was one of the most successful ground operations in the history of war. Both the coalition and the Iraqis mustered approximately 650,000 troops each for the combat in Desert Storm, but the better trained, better equipped, and better coordinated attacking force dismantled one of the world’s largest armored forces in just 100 hours.
(H/T to Kevin C.M. Benson, whose doctoral dissertation, “Educating the Army’s Jedi: The School of Advanced Military Studies and the Introduction of Operational Art into U.S. Army Doctrine,” provided a number of important details)