At the conclusion of the Gulf War (Desert Storm) thousands of Iraqi Kurds – called Peshmerga – revolted against the Saddam Hussein regime. The rebellion was quickly squashed by Iraqi tanks and armed helicopters that had not been destroyed or damaged by Coalition forces during the 1991 conflict.
Millions of Iraqi Kurds fled to the border areas of Turkey and Iraq with very few belongings. The border areas were mountainous and snow covered. However, Turkey refused to allow refugees to enter their country and the Kurds had to encamp on the mountain terrain with no food or shelter. A humanitarian crisis soon ensued with thousands of Kurds dying each day from starvation, exposure, and disease.
At first the U.S. administration ignored the plight of the Kurds. But it didn’t take long for CNN and the international media to take notice and publish daily highlights of the suffering taking place along the border of Turkey. The Bush administration decided to conduct a humanitarian operation to relieve the suffering of Iraqi Kurds located in over 30 border camps.
Operation Provide Comfort began in mid-April 1991. A ‘no-fly zone’ was established – denying Iraqi use of the air space above the 36′ North line in northern Iraq. At first humanitarian supplies – tents and food – were airdropped by C-130s flown from Incirlik Air Base in eastern Turkey. This phase of the operation lasted about two weeks.
Soon, an advance element of the 10th Special Forces Group arrived in Silopi, Turkey to set up a forward operating base. Silopi was located in southeastern Turkey on the border with Iraq. Before long, the 10th SFG(A) had its entire group deployed along the entire border area. The SF unit provided a variety of missions to include administration of the refugee camps, medical assistance, and setting up secure helicopter landing zones (HLZs) within the camps for the delivery of food, water, and medical supplies. CH-53s, CH-47s, CH-46s, and other aircraft of the U.S. and international partners began a huge effort to deliver MREs to the refugee camps.
The task force headed by the 10th SFG(A) was augmented with units from all branches of the U.S. military and with military units from other nations as well. Eventually the humanitarian mission grew so big that a three star general, LTG Shalikashvili, would be placed in charge of CTF Provide Comfort located at Incirlik Air Base. The SOCEUR commander, BG Potter, would assume control of Task Force Alpha operating out of Silopi. TF Bravo was established in the Iraqi town of Zakho located south of the Turkish border under the command of another U.S. general officer.
In time, the humanitarian effort moved south of the border into northern Iraq. ‘Way stations’ and refugee camps were established in northern Iraq in more hospitable terrain. Humanitarian organizations from around the world joined the effort and slowly the Iraqi Kurds left the refugee camps in the border areas and returned to their homes in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
Read more about Operation Provide Comfort (Iraq War News)
Map of Kurdistan – CIA, 1986