What was your mission during Operation Daguet ?
I was serving on the helicopter flight deck of a Mobile Support boat named Loire. This French boat was specialized in mine warfare and was engaged in the military campaign against the Iraqi army. Among my missions was to save any coalition pilot from fire in the event of a crash.
Our deployment began with the demining of the Suez Canal in Egypt to allow the passage of coalition ships. Then, we joined the southern Arabian Gulf with the ‘Eagle, Sagittarius, Pegasus’ mine hunters and took part in mine clearance operations off the Kuwaiti coasts from 30 January, 1991.
From the ceasefire on 28 February, 1991, demining action became a priority. My boat took part in cleaning up the Kuwaiti coasts, within a coalition of French, Belgian and Dutch assets. These three countries had come together to build the mine hunters that we were equipped with. We were able to demonstrate this specialty, which few naval forces actually have.
As soon as Kuwait was liberated, the country requested assistance in neutralizing the minefields the Iraqis had installed to protect themselves from an amphibious assault on Kuwait City. Instead of the sketchy shallow anchorages that we expected, we discovered the existence of six minefields and four mine lines off the coast, mixing rope mines and bottom mines. The multinational force destroyed 530 of the 1,240 neutralized mines, including 213 destroyed by French ships. The operation ended on 16 July, 1991.
Please describe a highlight of the campaign for you?
I remember the first mine we found at sea. The explosion caused a huge shower of water… I never imagined such power! Afterwards, I understood why the helicopter-borne assault ship USS Tripoli was so damaged after hitting a drift mine on 18 February, 1991… I saw it at the port in Bahrain.
Did you enter Kuwait, and what were your impressions?
Our ship called in Kuwait City on 24 February, 1991. We were accompanied by a small demining boat for divers named the Pluton. We found other French army soldiers who were in Kuwait. With them, we made patrols in the city. We saw the burning oil wells set on fire by the Iraqis before they retreated. Even with the sun at its zenith, it was almost dark!
The buildings were all damaged, charred vehicles and debris of all kinds littered the streets. The Iraqis had left behind many home-made explosive devices. Some sites were closed to access by US troops. The Iraqis had also opened the heavy fuel oil slicks and the area around the port was covered with oil slicks.
Did the lessons learned during this campaign help you during the rest of your military career ?
This campaign marked my entire career and my daily life. I realized what a modern conflict was, including about the considerable military equipment. I also measured the dramatic consequences for the populations concerned. This experience made me want to come back to Kuwait one day.
What do you do now ?
I left the French Navy in 2012 after 30 years of service but I kept a strong link with the military community by joining in the same year with the company Defense Conseil International (DCI), in charge of the transfer of French military expertise know-how to friendly forces. I have been an official representative of DCI in Kuwait since July 2020.