As coalition air power pounded Iraqi military and infrastructure, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein needed to force a ground engagement before his army disintegrated, if only for the propaganda value.
On 29 January 1991, three severely attritted Iraqi mechanized and armor divisions attacked the Saudi port town of Khafji, just across the border from Kuwait. They overran a US Marine observation post and routed a Saudi Arabian battalion. Coalition commanders knew the attack was imminent but the US Air Force would not deviate from the air campaign plan and the US Navy carriers and naval gunfire were unavailable due to a lack of flexibility and integration into the coalition operations (the air tasking order had to be printed out, put on a plane, and flown to the carriers in Persian Gulf for coordination, approval, and execution daily. The US Navy had no communication systems compatible with the US Army and Air Force systems).
Most of the attack was defeated but the Iraqi army still occupied the town on the night of 29-30 Jan. However, a US Marine Force Recon team stayed behind in the town and from a roof top began to coordinate air and artillery fire on the Iraqi forces the next morning. In order to strengthen the coalition unity and allow the Saudis to redeem themselves, Gen Norman Schwarzkopf decided that the town should be recaptured by the Arab coalition forces in the area.
Starting on the night of 30 Jan, Saudi infantry and Qatari tanks assaulted into the town supported by US Special Forces and USMC artillery. Though there was some heavy fighting initially, coalition firepower would eventually force the Iraqis out. The Saudis and Qataris cleared the town by 1 Feb.
The Battle of Khafji was the first ground engagement of the Gulf War. The Iraqi Army lost three of its best regular divisions and the Coalition casualties were relatively light. And were mostly due to a friendly fire incident with the US Marines on the night of the 29th, an unsupported initial attack by the Qataris on the 30th, and an AC-130 that was shot down on the 31st. Additionally two US soldiers were taken prisoner when their HET (military tractor trailer) made a wrong turn and inadvertently drove into town. Saddam Hussein wanted to force “The Mother of All Battles”, but found out quickly that Coalition air power, once properly allocated, made short work of his armor and mechanized troops.