The Daguet Division

September 1990 to May 1991

Aerial view of King Khalid Military City (KKMC), Saudi Arabia, November 1990.

From August 1990, as part of the mission assigned by the UN, the French navy deployed over thirty ships - aircraft carriers, cruisers and helicopter carriers - nearly 7 000 marines and three marine commandos, with the missions of enforcing the embargo and transporting troops and equipment.

Corps 1

Historical overview

In the Middle East, in 1980, Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a prominent regional military power. But the conflict it launched against Iran, the same year, became a trench war that would impoverish Iraq by reducing its oil revenues, affect its economy and cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. At the UN's instigation, on 20 August 1990 a peace treaty was signed between the two belligerents.

Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein did not wait for the signing of the treaty to launch a new invasion, on 2 August, this time against Kuwait, which he wanted to annex in order to take possession of its oil reserves and gain wider access to the Persian Gulf.

The Kuwaiti army put up little resistance and the Iraqi troops soon occupied the country. The UN condemned the invasion and the Security Council voted unanimously to adopt Resolution 660, which demanded Iraq's ”immediate and unconditional withdrawal” from Kuwait. On 29 November, it adopted Resolution 678, which empowered an international military coalition to enforce that withdrawal if necessary. Saddam Hussein was given until 15 January 1991. He did not comply, instead taking the Westerners present in Kuwait hostage and using them as human shields.

AMX-30B2 battle tanks of the 4th Dragoons Regiment are offloaded from the Saint Romain, Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, February 1991. ECPAD/Didier Charre

Many countries mobilised against Iraq and, in accordance with the UN resolution, at 1 am on 17 January 1991, Operation Desert Storm was launched. It began with a strategic bombing campaign, which destroyed Iraq's air force, nuclear and chemical facilities, power stations and many roads.

Next, the coalition members launched a powerful land attack against the Iraqi army, now without air cover.

On 26 January 1991, Kuwait was liberated by British troops, whilst US and French forces had advanced scarcely 300 km from Baghdad. What was left of the Iraqi army retreated over the border..

The air and land battle against Iraq took place from 24 to 28 February 1991, when Iraq announced that its armed forces had received the order to cease fire.

The parade ground at the Daguet Division command post in Miramar, Saudi Arabia, December 1990. A parapet surrounds the camp. ECPAD/Yann Le Jamtel

The French role in the Gulf War

From August 1990, as part of the mission assigned by the UN, the French navy deployed over thirty ships - aircraft carriers, cruisers and helicopter carriers - nearly 7 000 marines and three marine commandos, with the missions of enforcing the embargo and transporting troops and equipment.

On 14 September 1990, the Iraqi army raided the French embassy in Kuwait City. In response, on 15 September, President François Mitterrand determined that the French armed forces would participate in Operation Desert Shield. The French engagement involved the deployment of aircraft and/or detachments of air-force personnel to Saudi Arabia (Operation Daguet), Qatar (Operation Méteil) and the United Arab Emirates (Operation Busiris).

It was the biggest French military operation since the Algerian War.

Aerial view of fortified positions and T-55 tanks destroyed at Rochambeau, Saudi Arabia, February 1991. ECPAD/Michel Riehl

The arrival of the French land forces took place in three stages:

  • In September 1990, the units of combat helicopters were stationed in Saudi Arabia.

  • In January 1991, the French air force took part in the strategic bombing campaign.

  • In February 1991, the Daguet Division comprised 12 000 troops: legionnaires, parachutists, marine infantry, marine artillery and infantry.

These were joined by 1 160 air-force troops and 2 400 marines sent to the Gulf, together with 3 400 French reserves stationed in Djibouti. So the Daguet Division was a miniature army, equipped with the very latest technology. Its members may have been limited in number, but they represented the French military elite.

The Daguet Division played a major role in the land offensive: positioned on the west of the Allied formation, the French regiments had to capture the Iraqi As-Salman Airbase, 150 km into enemy territory, and take control of the nearby road network.

Members of the 3rd Marine Infantry Regiment invade the city of As-Salman. Some are in the prone firing position, armed with FAMAS assault rifles, while others advance and scale a fence, Iraq, February 1991. ECPAD/Michel Riehl and Yann Le Jamtel

The deployment of soldiers to Kuwait City after the cessation of hostilities constituted the final stage of the Daguet Division's engagement. On 26 February 1991, an advance party took up position in the French Embassy in Kuwait. Reinforcements were then sent to Kuwait City to carry out, until 15 May, the tasks of mine clearance (around the French embassy, neighbouring embassies and nearby beaches, and the port of Kuwait City), decontamination and renovation of public places.

Composition of the Daguet Division

The Daguet Division was comprised of the following regiments: the 2nd and 3rd Marine Infantry Regiments, 4th Dragoons Regiment, 1st Hussars Parachute Regiment, 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, 13th Dragoons Parachute Regiment, 6th Foreign Engineers Regiment, 11th Marine Artillery Regiment, 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment, 1st Spahi Regiment, 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment, 1st and 3rd Combat Helicopter Regiments, and 6th Command and Support Regiment.

Iraqi prisoners surrender at Rochambeau, Saudi Arabia, February 1991. ECPAD/Yann Le Jamtel

Outcome of the Daguet Division's intervention

The Daguet Division destroyed or recovered 18 tanks, 18 light armoured vehicles, 73 pieces of artillery, 59 vehicles of various types and18 bunkers, as well as completely destroying the As-Salman Airbase. It also captured 3 000 Iraqi soldiers. Often in the front line, particularly during the initial land offensives, its losses amounted to two dead and thirty wounded.

See also on Educ@Def: Overseas operations