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DESERT FOX

By SGM Herbert A. Friedman (ret.)

American Air Force, Naval, and Marine aircraft, the British RAF, and Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched against military targets in Iraq from December 16 to 19, 1998. The official explanation for this four-day attack was that it was retaliation for Iraq's refusal to allow the inspection of sites as stated in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, agreed upon at the end of the Persian Gulf War. The name of this operation was Desert Fox.

This problem came to a head when the Iraqis refused to allow the United Nations (UNSCOM) weapons inspectors to check for sensitive materials that were reported to be stored in a warehouse in the compound of the Shu'ba Aadhamiyya offices of the Ba'ath Party in Baghdad. During the attack, five different Allied leaflets were dropped. Some of the information in this article is tentative, because there has been no official discussion or publication of the psychological warfare operations performed during Operation Desert Fox to this date. I should also mention that every Arab who translates the leaflets produces a slightly different text. It is understood that the words are close, but may not be exact.

Although we are not sure of the exact sequence of events that took place, there is a rumor that when the United States threatened to bomb Iraq earlier; four aerial leaflets were prepared. On November 14, 1998, an attack was just twenty minutes from occurring when a suddenly conciliatory Saddam Hussein promised a "full and unconditional unrestricted cooperation." The bombers were turned around. The leaflets that had been prepared were stored away for future use. When Saddam refused entry to the United Nations arms inspection teams in December, the coalition decided that it was time to take a firm stand. Once again, four leaflets were prepared. It is believed that leaflets from both the first and second series were selected to be dropped.

Desert Fox Propaganda Leaflet

Desert Fox Propaganda Leaflet

The first leaflet (fig. 1) shows the Iraqi eagle symbol at the left. At the right is a red triangle. The triangle is the symbol of the elite Republican Guard. Over the triangle the propagandists have printed an image of the kind a sniper might see when looking through his scope. The symbolism is clear. The coalition is taking aim at the Republican Guard. The back of the leaflet (fig. 2) shows a fainter image of the Iraqi eagle, and the Arabic text "Our targets are only the forces that back the government in Baghdad. You are not our target, but you are under observation. Do not leave your positions. Do not head south." This is just the opposite of what the coalition leaflets said during Desert Storm. At the time the Iraqis were told to leave their positions and walk towards Saudi Arabia. The coalition clearly wanted the regular troops out of harm's way while they pounded Republican Guard positions.

Desert Fox Propaganda Leaflet

Desert Fox Propaganda Leaflet

The second leaflet (fig.3) shows a destroyed Iraqi tank from the Persian Gulf War. At the upper right the date "1411" is shown in Arabic. Muslims date their calendar from the birth of Muhammad in 580 AD, so this would translate to the Persian Gulf War date of 1991. The text on the second leaflet is again over a faint Iraqi eagle (fig. 4) and reads in Arabic "Iraqi soldiers. Maybe this will save your life. Do not resist the allied forces. Do not leave your positions. Do not head south. Our goals are only the forces that back the government in Baghdad."

Desert Fox Propaganda Leaflet

Desert Fox Propaganda Leaflet

The middle three leaflets all show scenes of death and destruction. It appears that Saudi Arabia was not consulted in regard to these leaflets. During the Gulf War, they were strongly against these "atrocity" leaflets and recommended scenes of friendly Arabs meeting, eating together, and even walking off into the desert holding hands. I suspect that they would have strongly rejected these leaflets showing such devastation.

The third leaflet (fig. 5) shows a number of destroyed vehicles along the "highway of death." The Iraqis were caught and massacred on the open highway at the end of the Gulf War as they tried to flee home with their stolen booty. This led directly to General Powell recommending to President Bush that the war be ended immediately. Powell feared a world outrage at what might seem to be the wanton killing of retreating soldiers.

The text on the back of the leaflet over a faint Iraqi eagle (fig. 6) says in Arabic "Protect yourself from harm. Do not resist the allied forces. Do not leave your positions. Do not head south. Our goals are only the forces that back the government in Baghdad."

Desert Fox Propaganda Leaflet

Desert Fox Propaganda Leaflet

The fourth leaflet (fig. 7) shows a number of Iraqi armored vehicles wrecked in the desert. The back (fig. 8) does not have the faint eagle. The text is also much shorter and was meant to read in Arabic "This battle was the mother of all battles Saddam. If you try to threaten Kuwait again, the coalition forces will destroy you a second time." The Arabic is incorrect on this leaflet and actually says something like "If you try to expand Kuwait again...."

A PSYOP soldier has stated "(the error) was noted by myself and another NCO who were in Saudi Arabia at the time the leaflets arrived. However, the commander in the rear was not convinced that this would be a problem. He seemed to believe the text was correct. The word was supposed to be "threaten" (ThDD), not "expand" (TmDD). A previous version of the leaflet had the correct text, but during a retranslation, they typed it in wrong (yes, it was merely a typo that got missed). There was another version of this same leaflet with the correct translation dropped, but we had insufficient quantities for the mission. This required them to print more."

The fifth leaflet shows a very faint silhouette of an American B-52 Stratofortress bomber flying from right to left. The B-52 has appeared on leaflets used during the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and most recently, Kosovo. With a bomb load of 60,000 pounds and a speed of almost 600 miles per hour, the B-52 has always been one of the more effective psychological warfare weapons. It is the symbol of American might and resolve.

There are five lines of text over the image of the bomber. The first and last lines are in red; the rest are in black. The Arabic text reads in English "Warning. This is only the beginning. Deploy south and you will be bombed. Warning." On the back of the leaflet there are nine lines of Arabic text in a vertical format. Once again the first and last lines are in red, the rest in black. The text reads "Warning. This could have been a real bomb. Coalition forces are watching you. Any units attempting to cross the Kuwaiti border will be destroyed. Abandon your equipment and live. Deploy with your unit south and you will die. Warning." Like the previous item, this leaflet has no faint eagle on the back.

It is curious that such a message should have been disseminated since we know that Operation Desert Fox was a direct result of non-cooperation with weapons inspections, and had nothing to do with a possible threat to Kuwait. I can only assume that there was some concern that Saddam Hussein might see America's problems in other parts of the world as an opportunity for aggression, and the leaflet was prepared and dropped as a preemptive strike against any such move.

All five leaflets are on display at Ft. Bragg, NC, in matted frames. The frames have a small brass plaque which reads "Desert Fox 14-20 DEC 98 - 2.4 million leaflets dropped."

Anyone with any additional data please write to the author, Herb Friedman or the editor of the Falling Leaf, Lee Richards.

This article is an updated version of the story first told in:
The Falling Leaf. No. 164. Spring 1999.


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