Persian Gulf States Table of Contents


From 1899 until 1961, Kuwait remained, in effect, a British protectorate. A succession of amirs of the Al Sabah ruled the country, but the handling of its foreign affairs was a British prerogative, and Britain guaranteed the security of the amirate. Kuwaiti forces consisted of the amir's royal guard plus a small domestic police force or constabulary under the British administration. During the 1920s and 1930s, British protection became particularly important in deterring Saudi encroachment and later in blocking Iraqi territorial claims. By independence on June 19, 1961, the British had converted the 600-man constabulary into a combined arms brigade of 2,500 men trained by a British military mission. Small air and naval forces were also established in 1961 under British tutelage.

With its small size and enormous oil wealth, Kuwait occupies an uneasy position at the head of the gulf. One of its powerful neighbors, Iran, only forty kilometers away, had proclaimed its aim of exporting its Islamic revolution; the other powerful neighbor, Iraq, had repeatedly challenged Kuwait's legitimacy. Fearful of the radical leadership in Iran, Kuwait aided Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War by permitting the transshipment of goods across its territory and by loans of about US$6 billion. Kuwait responded to terrorist bombings and other violence inspired by Iran by intensifying its military cooperation with the GCC and by building up its own forces. Although formally neutral and reluctant to become involved with the great powers except as a last resort, Kuwait turned to the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain for naval protection of its tanker fleet after twenty-one ships were attacked in the gulf in the six months preceding April 1987.

Iraq's surprise attack and occupation of Kuwait caused the virtual disintegration of the Kuwaiti armed forces. Large numbers of personnel were killed, captured, or dispersed, and most Kuwaiti equipment was destroyed or taken over by the Iraqi armed forces. The minister of defense said that 90 percent of military installations had suffered major damage. By early 1992, most army barracks were again usable, and the naval base was in operation but needed rebuilding. The air force flew temporarily from the civilian airport near the city of Kuwait while the air bases were being reconstructed in 1992. Kuwait expected to spend about US$9 billion--six times the prewar defense budget--in 1992 to replace destroyed equipment and installations.

In a sharp departure from previous policy, Kuwait entered into a ten-year defense cooperation agreement with the United States in September 1991. The agreement included United States port access, military equipment storage, and joint training and exercises. The agreement did not provide for the stationing of United States service personnel in Kuwait; 1,500 personnel remaining after the gulf war were scheduled to leave within a few months. Similar but less extensive ten-year cooperation agreements were subsequently concluded with Britain and France.

Organization and Mission of the Forces

Under the constitution, the amir is the supreme commander of the armed forces. The minister of defense directs the armed forces through the chief of general staff. The National Guard has its own commander, who reports directly to the minister of defense. The public security forces are all under the minister of interior. The minister of defense in early 1993, Ali as Sabah as Salim Al Sabah, had been shifted from the Ministry of Interior as part of the military shakeup after the gulf war. The ruling family maintained a tight grip on the centers of power, including many senior posts in the security services.

Before the Iraqi invasion, the army's manpower strength was 16,000 officers and enlisted men. The principal combat formations were three armored brigades, one mechanized infantry brigade, and one artillery brigade with a regiment of self-propelled howitzers and a surface-to-surface missile (SSM) battalion. All the combat units were under strength; by one estimate, as of 1988 the army's entire fighting strength was the equivalent of only one Western brigade.

Its first-line main battle tanks are M-84s, Yugoslav versions of the Soviet T-72 tank. The army has various models of British armored cars and armored personnel carriers (APCs). Its artillery consists of 155mm self-propelled howitzers, mainly of French manufacture. It has a large inventory of antitank missile systems of British, French, and United States origin, including the improved TOW (tube-launched, optically sighted, wire-guided) missile from the United States. It has purchased the Soviet FROG7 , a mobile battlefield missile with a range of sixty kilometers. In 1984, after the United States rejected a Kuwaiti order for Stinger shoulder-fired SAMs, Kuwait turned to Moscow for air defense weapons, purchasing SA-7 and SA-8 SAMs and ZSU-23-4 antiaircraft guns.

An estimate of the postwar strength of the Kuwaiti army, published in The Military Balance, 1992-1993, revealed the devastating effect of the Persian Gulf War. The disparate ground forces, estimated to number about 8,000, were to be reconstituted into four understrength mechanized and armored brigades, a reserve brigade, and an artillery brigade. Little matériel survived the war: some tanks, APCs, and 155mm guns. Kuwait's postwar equipment orders include 200 M-84 tanks (from Yugoslavia to offset previous Yugoslav oil purchases) and eighteen self-propelled 155mm guns from France. Kuwait also has received United States, Russian, and Egyptian armored vehicles.

The air force complement in 1990 before the gulf war was estimated at 2,200, excluding foreign personnel. Its inventory included about eighty combat aircraft, mainly Mirage F1s from France and A-4 Skyhawks from the United States, and more than forty helicopters of French manufacture, some fitted for assault missions with antitank missiles. Ground-based air defense was structured around the United States improved Hawk (I-Hawk) missile system, tied into Saudi air defense to receive data transmitted by United States and Saudi AWACS aircraft that had been operating in the area since the start of the Iran-Iraq War.

The Military Balance estimated that the immediate postwar complement of the air force was 1,000, with thirty-four combat aircraft and twelve armed helicopters remaining. By early 1993, however, air force personnel numbered about 2,500, with seventy-four combat aircraft, including McDonnell Douglas A-4s and F-18s, and twenty armed helicopters. Its two air bases, at Ahmad al Jabir and Ali as Salim, badly damaged in the war, are being repaired. In addition to Iraq's capture of the four batteries of I-Hawk medium-range SAMs, most of the fleet of transport aircraft was lost to Iraq. Before the occupation of the amirate, the Kuwaiti air force had ordered forty United States F18 fighter aircraft plus air-to-air missiles and cluster bombs. Deliveries under this order began in the first half of 1992. Kuwait will acquire the strongest air defense network in the Persian Gulf region under a proposal announced by the United States in March 1992 to transfer six Patriot antiballistic missile SAM firing units (each consisting of up to four quadruple launchers, radar, and a control station) and six batteries of Hawk SAMs. The sale will include 450 Patriot missiles and 342 Hawk missiles.

The navy's strength had been estimated at 1,800 in 1990 before the Iraqi occupation. Previously a coastal defense force with police responsibilities, the navy's combat capabilities were significantly enhanced during 1984 with the delivery of eight fast-attack craft armed with Exocet antiship missiles from the West German Lürssen shipyard. The navy also operated a wide variety of smaller patrol craft. According to The Military Balance, the navy was reduced to about 500 personnel in 1992 as a result of the Persian Gulf War and the Kuwaiti policy of removing bidun ("without"--stateless persons without citizenship, many of whom had long-standing stays in Kuwait while others came in the 1960s and 1970s as oil field workers and construction workers) from the armed forces. With the exception of two missile boats, the entire fleet was captured and sunk or badly damaged by coalition forces while being operated by the Iraqis. Some ships are believed to be salvageable. Five Republic of Korea (South Korea) twenty-four-meter patrol craft were among the vessels lost. However, delivery is expected on an additional four craft under an order pending when the war broke out.

Role of Kuwaiti Armed Forces in the Persian Gulf War

The Iraqi invasion in the early hours of August 2 was detected by a balloon-borne early warning radar, but the army had insufficient time to mount any organized resistance. Some contingents continued a small-unit defense, including those equipped with Chieftain tanks. About 7,000 soldiers escaped to Saudi Arabia; the remainder were killed or captured or participated in the internal resistance movement. Some Mirage and Skyhawk aircraft carried out attacks on the advancing Iraqi columns; when their air base in southern Kuwait was overrun, they flew to Saudi Arabian bases, as did some of the armed helicopters.

According to Norman Friedman, author of a study on the strategy and tactics of the Persian Gulf War, the Kuwaiti forces participating in Operation Desert Storm in February 1991 included the 35th Armored Brigade (renamed Martyr Brigade), the 15th Infantry Brigade, and the lightly equipped Liberation Brigade, which was armed with .50-caliber machine guns mounted on trucks. One source estimated that 7,000 Kuwaiti troops were involved. The Martyr Brigade was the first of the units of Joint Forces Command East in the drive paralleling the coast northward when the allied operation began on February 24, 1991. Along with Saudi, Qatari, and Bahraini forces, supported by United States marines on their left flank, their assignment of liberating the city of Kuwait incurred little Iraqi resistance.

Of twenty-four Kuwaiti aircraft participating in strikes against the Iraqi forces, one A-4 Skyhawk was lost to enemy fire. The two surviving Kuwaiti missile craft, carrying small marine contingents, were able to retake oil platforms and some of the gulf islands. Kuwait suffered only one combat death, according to an official British source.

Kuwait pledged contributions totaling more than US$16 billion to support the United States role in the Persian Gulf War. An additional US$6 billion was promised to Egypt and other member countries of the coalition to help offset the economic effects of the war.

Personnel, Training, and Recruitment

Unlike other Persian Gulf states, Kuwait has a conscription system that obligates young men to serve for two years beginning at the age of eighteen. Educational deferments are granted, and university graduates serve for only one year. In practice, exemptions are liberally granted, and most young Kuwaitis are able to avoid military duty. Estimates are that only 20 to 30 percent of the prewar military ranks were filled by Kuwaiti nationals. Military and security forces had been purged of Shia personnel during the 1980s. At the outbreak of the gulf war, Palestinians filled many technical positions, supported by thousands of Pakistanis, Indians, and Filipinos in maintenance and logistic functions. Officers on detail from Britain, Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan provided military expertise. Lower ranks in the army and security forces were occupied predominantly by bidun who had taken reasonably well to military life but were poorly prepared to absorb training in operating and servicing modern equipment. In spite of reports that many bidun fought well against the Iraqis, many were expelled from the army in 1991 for alleged collaboration. Because of their removal and the removal of Palestinians and other non-Kuwaitis, the ranks of the services became seriously depleted. Few Kuwaitis volunteer for military service, and conscription is not regarded as an acceptable option. Under the circumstances, Kuwait will be hard pressed to meet its goal of a postwar armed strength of 30,000. A relaxation of the policy toward bidun was hinted at by the statement of the minister of defense that people of "unspecified nationality" may be retained after screening for loyalty and may even be given Kuwaiti citizenship. With respect to conscription, the minister of defense in July 1991 said that the system was being reviewed to make it more effective.

Most Kuwaiti officers are members of the ruling family or related tribal groups. Education standards are high--many are graduates of Sandhurst--and living conditions, pay, and benefits are excellent. The Kuwaiti Military College accepts secondary school graduates for eighteen months of cadet training in army, air force, and navy programs. The United States provides pilot training and assistance in developing a flight training facility within Kuwait. United States, British, and French military missions and civilian contractors provide training for more technologically advanced systems. A small Soviet advisory group provided training in the use of Soviet missile systems before the Persian Gulf War.

Traditionally, the officer corps--with its close links to the ruling family--was considered to be a loyal and trustworthy defender of the regime. In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, however, there were displays of discontent among officers arising from the inadequate response of the armed forces to the Iraqi invasion and the failure to launch postwar reforms. Many of the 6,000 officers and men taken prisoner by the Iraqis were prevented from rejoining the armed forces and were angered at their treatment by senior officers who fled to Saudi Arabia. In June 1991, some officers of the resistance group known as the Second of August Movement petitioned the amir to dismiss the former ministers of defense and interior from their cabinet posts and to investigate the reason the Kuwaiti army was not mobilized or on the alert when the Iraqis attacked. The petition also called for removal of the army chief of staff and his immediate staff and as many as twenty generals and seventy-five colonels.

In July fourteen senior officers were forced into retirement. The amir reportedly met with disaffected officers to tell them that their calls for reform would be considered. Officers threatened with dismissal for signing the petition were reinstated, and other reform-minded officers were reportedly promoted.

Internal Security

Many of the domestic strains in Kuwait arise from the disparities between the living standards of Kuwaiti nationals and the majority of Kuwait's foreign population. Palestinian workers presented problems for the Al Sabah rulers for several decades, but, during the 1980s, militants and terrorists advancing the Khomeini brand of Islamism overshadowed the Palestinians as troublemakers. Kuwait's support for Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War accounted for much of the violence that disturbed internal stability during the 1980s. A series of terrorist bombings in 1983 aimed at Kuwaiti installations and the United States and French embassies were ascribed to Iranian retaliation. A network of Hizballah terrorists was uncovered, and, in the spring of 1984, seventeen Shia were sentenced to long prison terms, and three were condemned to death. Airplane hijackings, explosions, car bombings, and an assassination attempt against the amir ensued. Kuwait steadfastly rejected demands for release of terrorists in its custody, most of whom were still in jail at the time of the Iraqi invasion and subsequently disappeared. A number of Kuwaiti Shia were sentenced for setting fires at oil installations in 1986 and 1987. The attacks declined in 1988, and no attack was recorded in 1989 or 1990 after Iran's decision to accept a cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq War, which was followed by an attempted reconciliation with its neighbors.

Police and the Criminal Justice System

The Ministry of Interior has overall responsibility for public security and law and order. Under the ministry, the national police has primary responsibility for maintaining public order and preventing and investigating crimes. The National Guard--a semiautonomous body--has guard duties on the border and at oil fields, utilities, and other strategic locations. The guard acts as a reserve for the regular forces and reinforces the metropolitan police as needed.

Police selected for officer rank attend a three-year program at the Police Academy. National Guard officer candidates attend the Kuwaiti Military College, after which they receive specialized guard training. Women work in certain police departments, such as criminal investigation, inquiries, and airport security.

The principal police divisions are criminal investigation, traffic, emergency police, nationality and passports, immigration, prisons, civil defense, and trials and courtsmartial . The criminal investigation division is responsible for ordinary criminal cases; Kuwait State Security investigates security-related offenses. Both are involved in investigations of terrorism and those suspected of collaboration with Iraq.

The Kuwaiti judicial system generally provides fair public trials and an adequate appeals mechanism, according to the United States Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1991. Under Kuwaiti law, no detainee can be held for more than four days without charge; after being charged by a prosecutor, detention for up to an additional twenty-one days is possible. Persons held under the State Security Law can be detained. Bail is commonly set in all cases. The lowest level courts, aside from traffic courts, are the misdemeanor courts that judge offenses subject to imprisonment not exceeding three years. Courts of first instance hear felony cases in which the punishment can exceed three years. All defendants in felony cases are required to be represented by attorneys, appointed by the court if necessary. Legal counsel is optional in misdemeanor cases, and the court is not obliged to provide an attorney.

Kuwaiti authorities contend that the rate of ordinary crime is low, and data available through 1986 tended to bear this out. Of more than 5,000 felonies committed in that year, only 5 percent were in the category of theft. The number of misdemeanors was roughly equal to the number of felonies, but only 10 percent were thefts. Offenses involving forgery, fraud, bribery, assaults and threats, and narcotics and alcohol violations were all more common than thefts.

Two separate State Security Court panels, each composed of three justices, hear crimes against state security or other cases referred to it by the Council of Ministers. Trials in the State Security Court initially are held in closed session but subsequently are opened to the press and others. They do not, in the judgment of the Department of State, meet international standards for fair trials. Military courts, which ordinarily have jurisdiction only over members of the armed services or security forces, can try offenses charged against civilians under conditions of martial law. Martial law was imposed for the first time after the liberation of the country from Iraqi occupation. About 300 persons suspected of collaboration with Iraq were tried by military courts in May and June 1991, and 115 were convicted. Twenty-nine received sentences of death, later commuted to life imprisonment after international criticism of the trials. Human rights groups drew attention to the failure to provide adequate legal safeguards to defendants and an unwillingness to accept the defense that collaboration with Iraqi forces had been coerced. Many of the accused alleged that their confessions had been extracted under torture.

Human Rights Practices

Prior to the occupation of Kuwait in 1990, the principal human rights concerns, aside from widespread restriction on the exercise of political expression, were instances of arbitrary arrest and mistreatment of prisoners and lack of due process in security trials. A number of Kuwaitis were arrested between late 1989 and mid-1990 for political reasons and for participating in unlicensed gatherings. Noncitizens could be arbitrarily expelled if deemed security risks and were also subject to deportation if they were unable to find work after being released from their initial employment. Some foreigners reportedly were held in deportation centers for up to five years because they were unable to provide for their own travel out of the country. According to the Department of State, there were plausible reports of occasional torture and violence in apprehending and interrogating criminal suspects.

The seven-month Iraqi occupation subjected Kuwaitis to a systematic terror campaign that included extrajudicial killings, torture and other inhuman treatment, kidnappings, and arbitrary arrest and detention. There were many credible accounts of killings, not only of members of the Kuwaiti resistance but also of their families, other civilians, and young children. Attacks on Iraqi soldiers resulted in reprisal actions in neighborhoods where attacks had taken place and included summary and random execution of innocent civilians. Many Kuwaiti citizens also disappeared at the hands of the Iraqi occupation authorities. Large-scale executions of young men by gunfire or by hanging were reported. About 850 Kuwaitis remained unaccounted for in early 1993, many of them presumably killed while in Iraqi detention. Iraq insisted that it had no Kuwaiti prisoners.

After the restoration of the amirate government in 1991, there were many reports of beatings and torture to extract confessions from suspected collaborators. The Department of State estimated that forty-five to fifty Palestinian and other foreigners were tortured to death by police or military personnel. As many as 5,800 persons, mostly non-Kuwaitis, were detained on suspicion of collaboration during the four months of martial law that followed the country's liberation. Many arrests were arbitrary, and some detainees were held for months without being charged. As of early 1993, about 900 persons were still in detention; these included persons convicted in the State Security Court or martial law courts and those under deportation order but with no place to go. Of the prewar population of about 400,000 Palestinians resident in Kuwait, only about 30,000 remain. Most of the departures occurred during the Iraqi occupation: the remainder left because of less favorable living circumstances or Kuwaiti pressure.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress