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Gulf War Stage 2

The Coalition offensive begins

After Iraq refused to withdraw, the Coalition forces began a massive air campaign. Our CF-18 jets launched Canada's first air-to-surface attacks since the Korean War.

15 January 1991 – 3 March 1991

Gulf War

Operation Desert Storm

The United Nations deadline for Iraq to withdraw passed on 15 January 1991. In response, Coalition forces launched one of the largest air campaigns in history. This phase of the conflict was codenamed Operation Desert Storm. The Coalition forces targeted Iraqi aircraft, communications, weapons facilities and infrastructure.

To try to destabilize the Coalition countries, Iraq launched scud missiles at Israel. The missiles killed hundreds of people and caused major damage. Iraq also launched missiles at Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar. However, these attacks did not cause the conflict to spread and the Coalition remained united.

An air force weapons technician helps load a CF-18 warplane. December 16, 1990. Photo: Department of National Defence ISC90-5040

Canadian air operations during Desert Storm

Canada's biggest contributions during Operation Desert Storm came in the air. CF 18 jet squadrons and 500 personnel operated out of the “Canada Dry” bases in Qatar. As the conflict intensified, Canadian jets bombed Iraqi land and sea targets. It was the first time since the Korean War that Canadian air-to-surface attacks took place.

Canadian naval efforts during Desert Storm

The role of Canadian warships changed to a logistical role when the fighting began. They coordinated ship movements for the Coalition fleet. HMCS Terra Nova and HMCS Athabaskan also protected some Coalition ships that were farther away from the fighting. HMCS Athabaskan took part in a tense mission to aid the USS Princeton. Damaged by Iraqi mines off the coast of Kuwait, our sailors helped in the rescue of the American ship. HMCS Protecteur transported supplies and refueled other vessels as well.

HMCS Athabaskan returns from escorting the cruiser USS Princeton in the northern Persian Gulf. February 1991. Photo: Department of National Defence

Ground combat

On 24 February 1991, Coalition forces began an intense ground combat campaign. It resulted in a lot of destruction, with most of the casualties coming from the Iraqi forces. Iraq put up a short fight as Coalition forces rapidly pushed them from Kuwait and back into Iraqi territory. As the Iraqis retreated, they set hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells on fire.

First Canadian field hospital

Canada built a field hospital in Al Qaysumah, Saudi Arabia, near the Kuwait border in late February 1991. Its 530 personnel cared for both Coalition and Iraqi wounded. The fighting soon ended and the hospital stopped operating shortly thereafter.

General view of the No. 1 Canadian Field Hospital in Al Qaisumah, Saudi Arabia. February 11, 1991. Photo: Department of National Defence REC92-1558

Coalition forces triumph

Coalition forces overwhelmed the Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Storm. One hundred hours after ground combat began, American President George H. W. Bush declared a ceasefire on 28 February 1991. The Coalition had liberated Kuwait.

The Coalition had defeated Iraq, but Saddam Hussein retained power. He controlled Iraq for more than 12 years until the second Gulf War swept him from power in 2003.

Post-war efforts

After the war was over, Canadian warships patrolled the region with Coalition vessels. CAF members also worked with a special commission to try to find Iraq's biological, chemical and nuclear weapons production facilities. Canada also enforced sanctions on Iraq, assisted in diplomatic efforts, helped rebuild, and removed mines.

HMCS Winnipeg during a sunset in the Arabian Gulf while enforcing UN sanctions against Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War. May 19, 2001. Photo: Department of National Defence ISD01-4148


Theatres of war, like the Persian Gulf in the early 1990s, are dangerous places. There are many risks that go beyond the obvious ones of enemy attack or landmines. No Canadians lost their lives during the Gulf War, but the stressful conditions took a toll on the physical and mental health of some of those who served there. Chronic fatigue, respiratory complaints and muscular pain have been a harsh reality for them.

Canadians have long been an important part of international military efforts around the globe. The Canadians who served in conflicts like the Gulf War have accomplished much. They have also made great sacrifices in the protection of peace and freedom worldwide.

Classroom materials

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Lesson plan: 5-11

P.S. Thank you!

Lesson plan: Ages 12-18

Dear friend in the Gulf War

historical sheet

Gulf War

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