On August 2, 1990, a force of 120,000 Iraqi troops, spearheaded by 850 tanks, invaded and occupied the small nation of Kuwait, sparking an international crisis that culminated in the Persian Gulf War. Although African Americans made up only 12 percent of America's military-age population, they accounted for 26 percent of American military manpower in the Gulf. This overrepresentation of blacks in the American military reflected the military's success in addressing racial prejudice as well as the relative lack of employment opportunities for African Americans.During the earlier...
On August 2, 1990, a force of 120,000 Iraqi troops, spearheaded by 850 tanks, invaded and occupied the small nation of Kuwait, sparking an international crisis that culminated in the Persian Gulf War. Although African Americans made up only 12 percent of America's military-age population, they accounted for 26 percent of American military manpower in the Gulf. This overrepresentation of blacks in the American military reflected the military's success in addressing racial prejudice as well as the relative lack of employment opportunities for African Americans.During the earlier Gulf crisis, two African American officers in particular personified the opportunities available to blacks in the armed services, General Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Lieutenant General Cal Waller, second in command of U.S. operations in the Gulf. The invasion of Kuwait was significant in that it was America's first foreign policy crisis in the post–Cold War era, as well as the nation's greatest overseas commitment of military power since the Vietnam War. Recalling the domestic unrest and opposition created by the Vietnam War, Powell argued against committing American military forces without first clearly informing and securing the support of the American public.Moreover, unlike past American interventions, such as the invasions of Grenada and Panama and the Vietnam War itself, the United States did not act unilaterally in the first Persian Gulf War. President George H. W. Bush orchestrated a thirty-eight-nation coalition to oppose Iraq's invasion, which included the former Soviet Union working alongside the United States in an armed conflict. Moreover, U.S. policy employed military intervention only after diplomatic overtures and economic sanctions failed to affect Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Nonetheless, some blacks—such as Mark Harrison, the national organizer of the African-American Network Against U.S. Intervention in the Gulf—opposed the military buildup. In general, however, African Americans supported U.S. policy. A Gallop Poll in 1991 found that 59 percent of blacks favored action against Iraq.Powell and his military planners made a successful effort to concentrate allied forces in the Gulf region well before the start of a military conflict. Two weeks after the Iraqi invasion, Bush ordered U.S. forces to the Gulf to defend Saudi Arabia, an oil-rich U.S. ally, from a possible Iraqi attack—an operation that the Pentagon designated Desert Shield. By mid-October, some 230,000 American troops had arrived in the Persian Gulf, and by January 1991, the troop level reached 580,000, a greater number of troops than the maximum U.S. commitment during the Vietnam War.When a last-minute United Nations (UN) peace mission to Iraq failed to achieve a resolution, Bush announced the start of allied offensive operations on January 16, 1991, which the Pentagon dubbed “Desert Storm.” After more than five weeks of intensive bombing, American and allied forces launched a ground offensive on February 24, 1991. The war ended just five days later, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 Iraqis. Confounding predictions that African Americans would bear the brunt of American casualties, only 15 percent of the 184 U.S. fatalities were black. Although Hussein's army had been thoroughly defeated, the Iraqi leader remained in power., Kurdish refugees cross the Hizel River in 1991 to escape Saddam Hussein's attacks on their villages. AFPU.S.-Iraq relations remained tense throughout the 1990s. Tensions further escalated following the 2000 election of Bush's son George W. Bush to the American presidency and the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. on September 11, 2001. George W. Bush labeled Hussein's regime a threat to U.S. security and accused the dictator of hiding weapons of mass destruction from UN inspectors. In September 2002, Condoleeza Rice, the president's national security advisor, claimed that Iraq had assisted al-Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks. In December, Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, warned that Iraq would face war if it did not fully comply with UN disarmament resolutions. The U.S. and Great Britain increased their military presence in the Persian Gulf region in the early months of 2003. France, Germany, and Russia were among the nations that opposed military action against Iraq. UN weapons inspector Hans Blix believed that, with more time, inspections could prevent war. In early March the UN Security Council indicated that it would not approve a U.S.-backed resolution calling for military action against Iraq. Powell responded that America would lead a coalition to disarm Iraq even without UN authorization.Iraqi man celebrates the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003. Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters New Media Inc./CorbisOn March 19, 2003, the U.S. initiated Operation Iraqi Freedom by launching a wave of cruise missiles against targets in Baghdad. Ground combat began hours later when U.S. and British army units invaded southern Iraq. A Gallup Poll taken soon after the fighting began found that less than one-third of African Americans supported the war. In contrast, three-quarters of white Americans supported the military strike. The war was unpopular in many other nations; protesters in major cities around the world held antiwar demonstrations.U.S. and British forces took less than a month to defeat Iraq's regular army. American troops occupied Baghdad and the British captured Basra by the end of the first week of April. A few days later Kurdish and American forces captured Mosul, Iraq's third largest city. On May 1, President Bush declared that combat operations had ended and that Iraq had been “liberated.” Iraqi suicide bombers and paramilitary fighters, however, continued to inflict casualties in the following months. In December 2003 U.S. troops captured Hussein, dashing the hopes of his supporters that he would someday return to power.As in 1991, African Americans played a significant role in the second Persian Gulf War. In 2003 blacks accounted for 23 percent of American military forces, including 11 percent of the Army's enlisted combat infantry personnel. As of January 2004, 20 percent of the troops killed in the Iraq war were African American.See also Military, Blacks in the American.
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