At silent Kuwaiti town, Egyptian savors triumph WAR IN THE GULF

February 27, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Sun Staff Correspondent

AL ABRAK, Kuwait -- It had been a good morning for Gen. Yaheh Olwan, commander of the Egyptian 3rd Mechanized Division.

He stood next to his chief of staff at the center of this small desert town, 24 miles into Kuwait, savoring his army's just-completed liberation of the place from his overmatched, underfed Iraqi opponents.

It seemed to matter little that the only Kuwaiti there to greet him was a barking, ill-tempered dog. Or that much of the town had either been dug up and pilfered by the Iraqis or bombed to rubble by the allies.

The general simply knew that his men were advancing rapidly against a crumbling enemy force. Then, emerging from a nearby building, came an appropriate finishing touch to the general's morning. A dozen Iraqi soldiers walked sheepishly into the open, waving a tattered white undershirt at the end of a stick.

The general and his aide accepted their surrender.

It was that kind of a day all along the allied southern front in western Kuwait yesterday.

"Resistance?" asked Zaglud Fatah, the general's chief of staff. "A few. But many, many prisoners, we do not know yet how many because we cannot yet count them all."

The recaptured town, although almost absent of defenders yesterday, offered several insights into what life must have been like for the Iraqi troops who have occupied the town since August.

On the east side, a network of shallow bunkers crisscrossed through sand berms, with sandbags and corrugated metal offering scant protection. Each of nine nearby brick buildings used as barracks had been severely damaged or destroyed by bombs.

The entire side of one had been smashed, leaving a crater 15 feet deep and 30 feet in diameter. Radio towers were twisted, their tops snapped off. Trees were split in half, and about 20 military vehicles had been knocked out of commission.

On the west end of town was apparently the high-rent section of this neighborhood of bunker fortifications, presumably home to the Iraqi officers. One particularly elaborate bunker, apparently the headquarters, showed that life wasn't unbearable for all the men here during the past few months.

The floor was 12 feet underground, with a barrel vault of arched metal beams overhead, covered by sheet metal, sandbags and 3 feet of rock and sand.

Inside the 10-by-20-foot room were a few small luxuries. A mirror hung at one end behind a desk; on the desk sat an ashtray still filled with cigarette butts. At the other end was a bed, with batteries underneath hooked to a fluorescent light, a portable heater and an iron.

To one side, next to a basin of water, four china saucers with a delicate rose pattern were neatly stacked next to three dainty teacups. As a final homey touch, someone had installed fake wood paneling.

In the stretches of desert surrounding the town, there were few signs that the Iraqis had put up much of a fight.

Slit trenches several miles behind the Iraqi front line were interpersed with exposed tank dugouts. A Soviet-made tank still sat in one, knocked out of commission by an armor-piercing missile that had punched a hole no bigger than a pingpong ball into the thick walled turret.

Yet, the blast had been intense enough to burn out much of the machine's circuitry, and the tank's hatches had been left open by its escaping crew. Nine spent shell cases showed that they had not had much time to fight.

But the Egyptians managed to create a few problems of their own, which was hardly surprising considering that their supply line now stretched more than 30 miles.

This made for an occasionally confusing, accordion-like advance. The lead column would move rapidly, eventually having to stop to wait for the following units to catch up.

In the lead vehicle, Brig. Gen. Mustafa Kamen grew exasperated with the erratic progress. He once hopped from a jeep and fired three flares into the air, scowling as he signaled to a lagging unit.

Inside his mobile command center, his aide pointed out the unit's position on a map of western Kuwait. Previous Iraqi positions were outlined in blue but had been covered with red marks indicating the progress of the Egyptians.

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