In one way, it's no different from the usual forms of warfare. But it reveals war's horror.

Between Feb. 24 and 25, 1991, thousands of draftee Iraqi soldiers may have been sealed in their trenches by U.S. Army vehicles to suffocate, according to an article in the Sept. 23, 1991 Time magazine: “Were thousands of Iraqis buried alive during the allied operation against their front line last February? U.S. Army officers say that as tanks equipped with plows and bulldozers punched holes in the 70-mile-long Iraqi defense strip, enemy soldiers who refused to surrender were trapped under avalanches of sand.

Col. Anthony Moreno, commander of a unit that followed the initial U.S. breakthrough, recalls seeing arms protruding from the sand. ‘For all I know, we could have buried thousands,’ he told New York Newsday.

This account was also covered in The San Francisco Chronicle, which reported that the decision to use bulldozers was later justified in a report to Congress by then Secretary of State Dick Cheney: “Because of these uncertainties and the need to minimize loss of U.S. lives, military necessity required that the assault … be conducted with maximum speed and violence. … There is a gap in the law of war in defining precisely when surrender takes effect or how it may be accomplished. An attempt at surrender in the midst of a hard-fought battle is neither easily communicated nor received.”

PBS Frontline reported in an online article “Iraqi Death Toll,” that “One infamous incident during the war highlighted the question of large-scale Iraqi combat deaths. This was the ‘bulldozer assault’ in which two brigades from the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized)—The Big Red One—used plows mounted on tanks and combat earthmovers to bury Iraqi soldiers defending the fortified ‘Saddam Line.’

“While approximately 2,000 of the troops surrendered, escaping burial, one newspaper story reported that the U.S. commanders estimated thousands of Iraqi soldiers had been buried alive during the two-day assault Feb. 24-25, 1991.

“However, like all other troop estimates made during the war, the estimated 8,000 Iraqi defenders was probably greatly inflated. While one commander thought the numbers might have been in the thousands, another reported his brigade buried between 80 and 250 Iraqis. After the war, the Iraqi government

found 44 bodies.”

The Frontline article cited the original NY Newsday report, “Buried Alive” by Patrick J. Sloyan, Newsday, Sept.12, 1991. Sloyan was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Gulf War. Sloyan's summary of the eventmay be found online at


J.P. Zmirak