The Battle of Al Jahra: Part II
Saudi and Egyptian pilots were beginning to feel fatigued, and either continued assisted by amphetamines or switched out. Much needed maintenance was done on the airframes at the bases by US and British crews. Iraqi radar and ground control knew that the coalition presence in the sky was thinning out, and if they were to establish even temporary air superiority, or at least allow for the use of their strike planes, they would have to act now. This coincided with requests from the Republican guard and their soviet advisors for air support. Saddam, wanted his mother of all battles and would get it. MiG-23Ps were dispatched from Kuwait city international airport, as well as MiG-29s, and MiG-25s from Iraq. Using numbers and fighter baiting tactics, as well as the more advanced jamming and ECM abilities on the 23P model, the Iraqis managed to break Saudi control of the skies.
After three F-15Cs and four F-16s were shot down, exchanged for six MiG-23Ps and heavily damaging a MiG-29 forced to return to base, Coalition command and control began readying a major sortie to regain supremacy. But this would take time, offering Iraqis the use of their SU-25s, Mirages and SU-22s and the opportunity to further bring up their SAMs. By 3PM, the Egyptian and Saudi armoured core were reduced to fighting an elastic defence, reversing and retreating as much as possible to buy time for their promised reinforcements and air support. The Iraqi Mirage F1s began dropping beluga cluster bombs, forcing armour to disperse leaving it more vulnerable. As their mechanized infantry, self propelled AA and vehicles, as well as reinforcements began arriving, but Iraqi Mi-24Ds and Mi-28s sorties arrived. M163s, Mistrals and AMX-30SAs did their best to defend the columns, and close the distance to protect the tanks, managing to knock out several hinds at the cost of several vehicles. The Mi-28E (export models, that didn't exist OTL) instead focused on knocking out Saudi armour and helicopters (With their R-73s), and quickly retreating. One was hit by a stinger, but managed to whither the blow long enough to stage an emergency landing behind Iraqi lines.
Major Jabir Aydin, Iraqi Air Force, No. 82 Sqn, MiG-29 Pilot and Ace
I thought I was good, I had flown a MiG-25, back in the war with Iran. I even shot down an F-4 in '87, and I swear to God I almost had an F-14, but I'll admit that Iranian bastard was good too. I also thought that I've seen war, at least how to fight a war in the air. What happened that day over Al Jahra was something completely different. We had ambushes, counter ambushes, vectors from 5 different directions, top, down. My eyes were glued to my panel and my HUD. But while those F-15Cs may have been lions their pilots were often sheep. But they were sheep that could follow orders, and those orders were coming from the best. We all knew this, but our ground control was solid and the Soviets knew what they were doing. It was me, my wingman working with 96 Squadron, who were flying MiG-25s. They'd bait the F-15s, get them to waste their missiles on them, speed the hell out of there and leave them up to us. It was a lot easier said than done. There was one in particular, he was out flying me, dodging me, trying to get around me. He managed to get the drop on my wingman and knocked him out. Thank god he ejected, the Saudis picked him up though. That almost ace got a little too smug, I managed to get a lock and he tried to dodge, took too many Gs and flew into the ground.
The speed and ferocity of modern warfare between two sides roughly comparable in technology, at this scale, was something not witnessed ever at this point. At least 728 Iraqi MBTs faced 460 Coalition over a battle front extending almost 20 kilometers. As attack helicopters began to dog fight each other, F-15s dropped paveways, F-4Es launched mavericks, both sides became confused and units became separated from each other. Communications were being jammed by both sides. The coalition had a slight edge, and managed to coordinate better, they continued to draw the Iraqis deeper into the range of the now American piloted attack helicopters and supercobras. The latter brought down several Hinds with their AIM-9 missiles, and even got into gun fights with other Hinds, driving each other away. The Iraqi T-72Bs were equals with a slight edge compared to the upgraded M-60s, and their more experienced crews, finally trained on how to use their laser range finders (Unlike OTL), whereas their more numerous T-72Ms still could hold their own against the M1IP and M-60. While Saudi F-15Es dropped cluster and HE 500lbs bombs to disrupt Iraqi formations, selective American raids targeted the still centralized Iraqi command and control systems. A similar situation started occuring as SU-22s, equipped with KH-25MLs, struck several command posts and M117s, and Mirages dropped 500 pound bombs onto forward positions. SU-25s in particular ripped apart supply convoys, or strafed the coalition line. As the Saudi air power increasingly came back into play, two were shot down. Both sides began to suffer serious air to air losses as they dueled for the skies.
As the Iraqis lost their brief window to control the skies, they increasingly became the target of Saudi (and American air raids) that began to chew up the isolated tank units, which in many cases had either become lost, displaced or out of range of their anti air protection. Iraqi artillery units began launching coloured smoke rounds, a signal devised in case communications broke down as units moved too far out. As the Iraqi mechanized infantry moved up, they began consolidating their forces and retreating to more defensible locations. Moving in their artillery, digging trenches and bringing up their anti air systems. While the Saudi and Egyptian advance was completely halted, and their front line armour units left in disparate condition. Supply lines were extended and it would take days to recover. The Iraqis were in no better shape either. They took far more losses, in both men and material, and wasted an armoured spearhead on a needless battle. More importantly, the further depletion of their aircraft, loss of pilots and inability to prevent the establishment of air defences would tip the scales further in the air towards the coalition. Both forces began to entrench.
There was a feeling of conflict and contradiction. The reports brought up a feeling of indignation, almost like an ulcer. He remembered it plaguing him those few short years ago. But on other hand, pride and other thoughts began to fill his mind. He could barely comprehend the reports, this style of war, but the Soviets seemed to know it well, and he intended to use them for as long as he could. The subtle realization that the Americans, the hated British and their Saudi puppets could throw everything they had and his best men struck it down. It began to go to Saddam's head.
The Soviets, Iraqis, nationalistic Arabs and even some American news sources presented this as a defeat, akin to the military incompetence displayed by American patrons like South Vietnam. This was possible because most of the footage leaked of the battle, came from Soviet and Iraqi propagandists embedded with Iraqi units, allowing careful editing of what was released to the foreign media. They raved how Egypt and Saudi Arabia groveled to the west, wasting their soldiers lives rather than facing the true enemy in Israel. This propaganda was specifically formulated in conjunction with the KGB and aimed at the Egyptian rank and file, which did negatively affect morale. Regardless, the Iraqis had suffered severe losses of vehicles and aircraft, including hundreds of tanks, including some of their better and newer Soviet imports, at least 6300 Iraqi soldiers and 4100 Coalition soldiers were casualties (not necessarily KIA) CNN, BBC and other western agency coverage was only permitted in the rear areas, despite who they may have had in Baghdad. The Americans countered the Soviet/Iraqi propaganda efforts with drone, fighter and sat images/footage, yet this seemed to only prove that the situation was a stalemate at best. The official coalition line was that a massive Iraqi offensive operation was stopped dead in it's tracks, and that this was only the beginning of the campaign. Behind the scenes, heated arguments occurred in the Pentagon, White House, State Department and CENTCOM.