Inside the epic tank battle that moulded Trump’s new national-security adviser

H.R. McMaster

President Donald Trump announced US Army Gen. H.R. McMaster as the new leader of the National Security Council on Monday, casting a spotlight on McMaster’s storied past.

A particularly formative and epic episode in McMaster’s career was a lopsided victory in a tank battle under McMaster’s command in February 1991.

After months of roaming the Iraqi countryside with only sporadic contact with enemy forces, McMaster, on few hours of sleep, led a force of nine M1A1 tanks and 12 Bradley fighting vehicles near Iraq’s 73 Easting line, a north-south running line used by militaries to navigate.

Around 4:18 p.m., McMaster’s tank rolled ahead of the rest of his group and crested an “almost imperceptible rise” during a sandstorm and spotted a group of enemy tanks.

From McMaster’s account of the events:

“In an instant, I counted eight tanks in dug in fighting positions. Large mounds of loose dirt were pushed up in front of the vehicles and they were easily discernible to the naked eye. They had cleverly established their position on the back slope of the ridge (reverse slope defence) so they could surprise us as we came over the rise. We, however, had surprised them. We had destroyed their scouts earlier in the day and, because of the sandstorm, they had neither seen nor heard us.”

M1 abrams camel
A US Army M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank, Company C, 1st Battalion, 67th Armour Regiment, 2nd Armoured Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division during an exercise in the US Central Command area of responsibility, February 19, 2014. US Army photo by Sgt. Marcus Fichtl, 2nd ABCT PAO, 4th Inf. Div.

Suddenly exposed to eight Soviet-made T-72 Iraqi tanks, McMaster ordered his crew to fire high explosive and tank-defeating rounds. Within seconds, McMaster and company had defeated several enemy tanks, and before the unaware Iraqis could respond, the rest of his company crested the hill and opened fire as well.

The crew of McMaster’s Abrams tank had the difficult job of weaving through a minefield while keeping the thick armour on the front of the tank pointed toward enemy fire, as Iraqi tank rounds fell short of returning fire on McMaster’s tank.

“The Troop had assaulted through four kilometers of heavily defended ground. In twenty-three minutes, Eagle Troop had reduced the enemy position to a spectacular array of burning vehicles,” by 4:40 p.m., despite enemy tanks, infantry fire, and RPGs, wrote McMaster.

Iraqi tank desert storm gulf war
A destroyed Iraqi tank during the Gulf War. Public Domain via Wikipedia

Within a half hour, McMaster’s men had destroyed 25 Iraqi tanks, 16 personnel carriers, and 30 trucks without a single US loss. The encounter proved the efficacy of the M1A1 Abrams, which was relatively new to battle, and proved to be a formative experience for McMasters.

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