The Coast Guard's Role in the Persian Gulf War

By Mulligan, Michael | Sea Classics, May 2000 | Go to article overview
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The Coast Guard's Role in the Persian Gulf War

Mulligan, Michael, Sea Classics

With the 10th Anniversary of the Gulf War fast approaching, it is time to highlight the U.S. Coast Guard's important contribution to the United Nations' victory in that Middle Eastern crisis.

The US Coast Guard is the smallest of America's five armed forces. The Coast Guard has always had an unique position in the United States' national command authority. In peacetime the Coast Guard operates as part of the Department of Transportation (DOT), but during times of war or presidential discretion, the Coast Guard operates as an arm of the US Navy. The Persian Gulf War was no different for this tiny service. The Coast Guard answered the call to arms and added its 31st streamer to the service flag. (Krietemeyer 10)

Not known by the general public is the contribution of the US Coast Guard in the conflict in the Middle East which would earn the praise of coalition commander, General Schwartzkopf:

The US Coast Guard, operating with the US Navy, continues to make a significant contribution... Although the Coast Guard is the smallest US force deployed to the Middle East theater...Their maritime expertise has been invaluable.

The Coast Guard's participation was not filled with great battles with the enemy or fantastic displays of firepower that her sister services displayed. It is a story of people, mostly volunteers, who answered their country's call to serve in a time of crisis. After the 2 August 1990 invasion of the oil-rich emirate of Kuwait by Iraq's elite Republican Guard, President Bush "drew a line in the sand" on 7 August 1990 by deploying US forces to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The US Coast Guard was part of this military response to the invasion of Kuwait.

Before it was over, the Coast Guard would deploy more than 600 personnel overseas to staff Port Security Units (PSU) and Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDET) to enforce the United Nations Resolutions in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. Aviation personnel and pollution specialists were sent to counter Saddam Hussein's act of eco-terrorism in Kuwait. The gulf crisis would lead to the largest call-- up of Coast Guard reservists in the service's history.


Some of the first Coast Guard forces on the scene were the law enforcement detachments (LEDETs). The LEDETs' job was to enforce UN Resolution 661, which imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. The LEDETs had the knowledge and experience in anti-smuggling operations fighting the drug smugglers in the waters of the Caribbean to help the coalition forces enforce the embargo. The LEDETs formed boarding parties of usually ten personnel led by a Coast Guard officer, three Coast Guard enlisted members, one US Navy officer and five Navy enlisted personnel. All Navy personnel were trained by US Coast Guard personnel in boarding tactics and small arms handling (Conduct 54).

The LEDETs did not have to wait long to put their skills to use. On 15 September 1990, the master of an Iraqi merchant vessel, AL FAO, would not stop for a search, so the USS BREWTON (FF-1086) and an Australian Frigate HMAS DARWIN (F-04) fired several shots across the bow of the AL FAO. The merchant vessel slowed down just enough to have a boarding team put aboard safely. The boarding team was made up of four Coast Guard and nine Navy personnel. They discovered the merchant vessel AL FAO to be completely empty, and the vessel was allowed to return to Iraq (Conduct 57-58). This boarding was the first of many to be conducted under the Maritime Interdiction Operation (MIO) led by Coast Guard personnel. The Maritime Interdiction Operation is the only on-going mission in the Middle East that includes Coast Guard personnel. The LEDETs and their Navy counterparts have conducted thousands of boardings in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf to enforce United Nations resolutions.


War has always brought destruction. This destruction was brought to a new level on 18 January 1991, when coalition reconnaissance flights spotted a massive amount of oil spilling into the Persian Gulf.

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