Gulf War PoW: Operation Desert Storm was a world-changing moment in time

Operation Desert Storm was a "world-changing moment in time", a former RAF navigator who was shot down and tortured by the Iraqi regime during the first Gulf War has said.

January 17 1991 marked the onset of the US-led coalition campaign to drive Saddam Hussein's forces from the oil-rich Gulf state, which they had illegally seized the previous summer.

Now, 27 years on from the start of the campaign and his capture, Flight Lieutenant John Nichol said he has "absolute admiration" for the RAF pilots targeting Islamic State in the region.

Mr Nichol told the Press Association he finds it "staggering" how the Tornado fighter jet he flew in has been used "every single day" on operations since.

The 54-year-old said when he joined the military he was a "Cold War warrior", and that no one expected to fight, as conflict would have meant "nuclear Armageddon".

"It was almost incomprehensible to think about. So when we went to war in 1991 it was an absolute and utter shock - not just for us but for the world," he said.

WAR Missing/Nichol
WAR Missing/Nichol

"There were 500,000 allied men and women there deployed, fighting. It was an amazing, almost unbelievable thing to be a part of that we never expected.

"Now those 27-year-old young men and women who are flying, who were not born, expect to go to war. They fully expect to go to war.

"It was very different back then and people forget about that - people forget that this was an absolute world-changing moment in time."

Describing the first Gulf War as a "completely successful conflict", Mr Nichol said it was the aftermath that was handled badly.

"The military won that war - the military did everything right. The politicians lost the subsequent peace and we are still seeing those ramifications today," he added.

He also said part of the rise in extremism and terror attacks "can be traced back to that moment in time", and the current conflict in Syria can be "linked" to it as well.

#DesertStorm 27 years ago & we were on our way. There were many, many hundreds of jets airborne. It would not end well for some of us!

-- John Nichol (@JohnNicholRAF) January 17, 2018

"There are ways all of these things followed on from the first Gulf War and the second Gulf War to the situation that we are in today," he said.

Mr Nichol was held hostage by the Iraqi dictator's regime after he and pilot John Peters were captured when their jet was brought down following a massive aerial bombardment to clear the way for the ground invasion.

Shot down on the first day of the campaign, the pair were beaten and tortured before being paraded on Iraqi television, with their battered faces quickly becoming one of the defining images of the conflict.

The two airmen were finally freed after 47 days in captivity, while Operation Desert Storm was largely judged a success in driving Saddam's forces out of Kuwait.

Mr Nichol said the past three decades have gone "both quickly and slowly" and that Operation Desert Storm was a "life-defining moment" for him and many others.

He also highlighted how his admiration for pilots currently flying over the region as part of the global coalition's efforts to eradicate IS is "boundless".

"Whilst it was pretty crap for us and we certainly feared for our lives, there were elements of hope and elements of a sense that we might survive the ordeal (if we we were captured)," he said.

"I think that the young men and women today know that, God forbid if any of those get shot down in that region, the chances are, they know what the results will be.

"They have seen the videos, they know what will happen, and so I have utter and absolute admiration for the work the young men and women are doing now."

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