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Kuwaiti Air Force Ready to Be Armed, Join in Patrols : Military: Pilots recount hectic hours after the Iraqi invasion and say they are now eager to join the fray.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Kuwaiti air force, three months after escaping from 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 are launched during the next few weeks, a Saudi military spokesman said.

Kuwaiti air force officials have refused to discuss why they have been restricted from carrying live 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 that Kuwaiti pilots are committed to abiding by the decision of the U.S.-led multinational forces in Saudi Arabia 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.”

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A Saudi military spokesman said the Kuwaitis will be permitted to carry live weapons as soon as their training period is concluded and they begin regular air patrols. “At the time of action, you will see them armed, fully armed,” the spokesman said.

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

First Lt. Khaled Malallah, 27, said he got a telephone call at 11:30 p.m. in the hours before the early-morning invasion and was told to report to his base. “They say, come to base, come and join us. They say a special code, and I understand it’s a war.”

Three other pilots were already there when Malallah arrived shortly after midnight, and 10 more arrived during the night. With many pilots on summer vacation and others prevented by the invading troops from getting onto the base, it was up to them and a squadron of Mirage fighter jets at another base to carry on the fight, Malallah said.

“Every three hours, they bombed us, four to six planes each time,” he said. With the runway destroyed, base officials decided to use a service road on the base for takeoffs and landings. The problem: The A-4 Skyhawks were not equipped to fly at night and had to wait until dawn to begin their sorties.

Shortly after dawn, Malallah set off on what would be his only mission of the day: providing air cover for a group of aircraft attempting to bomb four Iraqi gunboats off the coast of Kuwait.

The A-4s, not normally used for air-to-air combat, were not equipped with airborne radar, and as the mission set off, Malallah had to rely on radio reports from his base showing two Iraqi interceptors approaching him 40 miles to the north.

The Iraqi aircraft began closing as the bombings began, but the Kuwaitis knew the Iraqis could not fire their missiles until they were less than 15 miles from their targets. They had closed to 19 miles when all four gunboats went up in flames, and the Kuwaiti aircraft veered south and away.

A squadron of Mirage interceptors from the other base had been able to complete one mission early in the morning before the Iraqis took over the base, forcing the Mirages to flee to Saudi Arabia.

But the A-4s continued sorties throughout the day. “It was not a lot,” Lt. Col. Sultan said, “because we were running at less than half the manpower. . . . We shot down so many helicopters, we threw so many bombs on them, but we were outnumbered and too late.”

Throughout the evening of Aug. 2, 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.

“We had some people who were against this decision. We kept talking and talking until we decide on the evacuation,” Sultan said.

“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. 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% 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,” Malallah said. The A-4s now carry new lettering just below the pilot’s cockpit. It says, “Free Kuwait.”


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