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Kuwaiti air force to join armed patrols

Published Nov. 11, 1990|Updated Oct. 18, 2005

The Kuwaiti air force, three months after escaping Kuwait under cover of darkness, is preparing to join Saudi and American jets on patrols in the Persian Gulf region, military officials said Saturday. Kuwaiti pilots until now have not been allowed to carry weapons and ammunition on their aircraft. They will be carrying live missiles for the first time since the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait when the patrols begin in the next few weeks, a Saudi military spokesman said.

Kuwaiti air force officials have refused to discuss why they have been restricted from carrying weapons. However, an American technician who works with Kuwait's A-4 Skyhawk detachment in Saudi Arabia said the Saudis have refused to supply the Kuwaitis with weapons because of fears that an anxious Kuwaiti pilot might launch hostilities prematurely.

Lt. Col. Sultan Abdulla, the Kuwaiti detachment's operations officer, insisted Kuwaiti pilots are committed to abiding by the decision of the U.S.-led multinational forces before launching any attack.

"That decision will commit a lot of countries. We don't want to ignite the war unless it's firm, everybody's ready," he said. "If we ignite it and everybody's relaxed, they might turn against us."

In one of their first visits with journalists, Kuwait's A-4 pilots recounted details of their daylong combat with the Iraqi invaders Aug. 2 and their escape to Saudi Arabia the next night.

Throughout the night, top base staff members met in the commander's office to decide what to do next: fight or flee. At midnight, they decided there was no choice. They had to leave. At 3:30 a.m., the jets began taking off for Saudi Arabia.

"It's very hard to describe. There's no such word to describe how we felt when we left Kuwait. I was thinking, better to die than evacuate," Sultan said. "But it's not the situation to die. Nowadays, we have 20 airplanes standing out there. If we stay, we have no airplanes, no pilots."

In all, about 80 percent of the Kuwaiti air force, including 20 A-4 Skyhawks, training aircraft and several helicopters, made it to Saudi Arabia, where they are preparing to resume full operations.

"This is the chance to be proud again, to fight for our country. We are ready to go, and we are ready to die," said 1st Lt. Khaled Malallah, 27. The A-4s now carry new lettering just below the pilot's cockpit. It says, "Free Kuwait."

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