Operation Provide Comfort

Operation Provide Comfort/Provide Comfort II
Part of Iraqi no-fly zones
DateMarch 1991 – 31 December 1996
LocationNorthern Iraq
Result Establishment of Kurdish de facto autonomous region in northern Iraq
 United States
 United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
United States John Shalikashvili Iraq Saddam Hussein
Casualties and losses

2 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters shot down (friendly fire, 26 killed), Five U.S. service members killed and 25 wounded
Three British service members wounded
Two Netherlands service members wounded.

Total: 31 Killed, 30 Wounded

90 killed 85 wounded Many air defense systems destroyed
1 MiG-23 Flogger shot down
1-2 Su-22 Fitters shot down[1]
Then-Lt. Col. John Abizaid speaking with some Kurds in Northern Iraq during Operation Provide Comfort, 1991
Commemorative medallion issued to some participating U.S. soldiers

Operation Provide Comfort and Provide Comfort II were military operations initiated by the United States and other Coalition nations of the Gulf War, starting in April 1991, to defend Kurds fleeing their homes in northern Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War and deliver humanitarian aid to them.


"Operation Haven" by the British name – was a British initiative, made at a time when the U.S. was fundamentally uninterested in any further taking of action in the Gulf. The British Prime Minister’s lobbying of European colleagues achieved NATO support, leveraging the necessary American air support. Then as Saddam’s retribution activities escalated, U.S. ground and logistic support was also achieved. This was a distinctly British operation though, with a proposed force of 6000 personnel, spearheaded by 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, with elements from the Army, Royal Air Force, and other coalition members. It was deemed dramatically successful, even though it appeared to be risky given the climate of those times. Operation Haven literally “invaded” Iraq. The Coalition's main task was to enter Northern Iraq, clear the designated area of the Iraqi threat and establish a safe environment for the Kurd refugees to return to their homes. The mission was both a military one and humanitarian; once security had been established, with the U.S. providing air support and specialist elements with other Coalition members, supply and rebuilding of infrastructure was then initiated. The ground mission within Iraq took 58 days to complete. Operation Provide Comfort/Haven officially ended shortly after and the enforcement of the 'No Fly Zone' continued to ensure security in the region.

U.S. participation and events

The 1991 uprising in northern Iraq resulted in an Iraqi military response towards the rebels in both northern and southern Iraq. Fearing a massacre like what had happened during the 1988 Anfal campaign, millions of Kurds fled towards the Turkish border.

On 3 March, General Norman Schwarzkopf warned the Iraqis that Coalition aircraft would shoot down Iraqi military aircraft flying over the country. On 20 March, an American F-15C Eagle fighter aircraft shot down an Iraqi Air Force Su-22 Fitter fighter-bomber over northern Iraq. On 22 March, another F-15 destroyed a second Su-22 and the pilot of an Iraqi PC-9 trainer bailed out after being approached by American fighters.[1]

On 5 April, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 688, calling on Iraq to end repression of its population. On 6 April, Operation Provide Comfort began to bring humanitarian relief to the Kurds. A no-fly zone was established by the U.S., the UK, and France north of the 36th parallel, as part of the Iraqi no-fly zones. This was enforced by American, British, and French aircraft. Included in this effort was the delivery of humanitarian relief and military protection of the Kurds by a small Allied (U.S./UK/Fr/Tu) ground force based in Turkey. Also participating was the 3/325 Airborne Battalion Combat Team, based in Vicenza, Italy, and commanded by then-Lt. Col. John Abizaid. With the 3/325, was a Task Force of 6 UH-60 Blackhawks and highly trained crews led by Cpt Morrow of the 5th Quarter Master Detachment in Kaiserslautern, and SSG Bluman from Giebelstadt, Germany. Fifteen UH-60 Blackhawks and five OH-58D helicopters, crews, and support personnel from the 11th ACR in Fulda, Germany self deployed to join the operation in mid April. The 11th ACR contingent remained there until mid October. Among other individual utility missions, the 11th ACR contingent provided the majority of the support for the State Department mission run by Lt. Colonel Richard Naab, the shuttle flights back to Incirlik, Turkey, and the air support for the ready reaction forces provided by the USMC.[2][3]

Units of the 18th Military Police Brigade, commanded by COL Lucious Delk, and a forward Headquarters Command Cell led by CPT Alan Mahan, and SGM Ed Deane, with units of the 709th MP Battalion, the 284th MP Co and the 527th MP Co, provided security of the headquarters, Kurdish refugee camps, and convoy security. The Brigade was the last unit to leave the area at the conclusion of operations. Several members received the Soldier's medal after calling in and assisting in the MEDEVAC of a wounded Iraqi National from a minefield near the river not far from the MP Headquarters camp.

Kurdish refugee children run toward a CH-53G helicopter of the German Army during Operation Provide Comfort

While Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm were run by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Operation Provide Comfort came under the authority of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), headquartered in Vaihingen, Germany. On-ground humanitarian aid was provided by the 353rd Civil Affairs Command, Bronx, New York City, and by subordinate units 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, Green Bay, Wisconsin, and 431st Civil Affairs BN, Little Rock, Arkansas. These units were relocated to Turkey and Northern Iraq after completing missions in Kuwait. They were soon joined by Lieutenant Colonel Ted Sahlin's 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which had only returned to the U.S. two weeks before after having been deployed to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait for the past 10 months. The base camps that were established for Kurdish refugees were nicknamed Camp Jayhawk and Camp Badger after college mascots. Other camps were established in Silopi, Turkey the first troops to arrive were the 36h CES from Bitburg Air Base Germany, the 36th CES which built all base camp and facilities for multi-national troops sent to assist with the operation. Smaller "detachment" camps were also built in and around Zakho, Iraq and Sirsenk, Iraq by these same members and were led by USAF Prime BEEF commander Captain Donald Gleason from Ramstein Air Force base and USAF Prime RIBS personnel from RAF Bentwaters. He led a team of fifteen that is now known as the first Air Force unit to enter Iraq. Supplies for these camps were sourced from a variety of areas including units that were returning to the U.S., Coalition countries, European military stocks, and civilian contractors in the U.S. Many supplies had to be airdropped due to restrictions by the Turkish government for entering Iraq through their border.

Also deployed to Zakho from their main-body deployment site in Rota, Spain, was Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, homeported in Gulfport, Mississippi, Commanded by Cdr Donald Hutchins, U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps. It provided humanitarian aid, water wells, and minor repairs to Sirsink air field (Prime BEEF team members from Torrejon Air Base, Spain and Aviano Air Base, Italy, provided the major airfield repairs) from bomb damage received during Operation Desert Storm. Like its Air Force counterparts, it was the first Naval Mobile Construction Battalion to enter Iraq prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom. USS Forrestal (CV-59) and her Carrier Task Force commanded by Commander, Carrier Group Six commenced her 21st and final operational deployment on 30 May 1991. During this period she provided air power presence and airborne intelligence support (the airwing flew over 900 sorties over Iraq) to the Combined Joint Task Forces of Operation Provide Comfort and Operation Northern Watch enforcing the northern "no-fly zone" in Iraq. During this last deployment FORRESTAL served in a number of new and innovative battle group and carrier roles. She completed this deployment on 23 December 1991.

Lieutenant General John Shalikashvili commanded the overall operation and later became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Task Force Bravo, the in-country multi-national element of the operation was commanded by MG Jay Garner, U.S. Army, who was later appointed a Special Representative to Iraq under the George W. Bush Administration.

The first conventional units to cross into Iraq and enter Zakho were the U.S. Marines on April 20, 1991, when two companies of infantry were helo lifted into Zakho, where around 300 regular Iraqi Army infantry and armored vehicles from the 66th Special Assault Brigade were still present posing as police. The Marines had been preceded by 1st battalion, 10th SFG (who were inserted into Iraq on 13 April 1991). The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (SOC) was commanded by Colonel James L. Jones, who later became Commandant of the Marine Corps; Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR); and National Security Advisor. The MEU consisted of the 24th MEU command element, Battalion Landing team 2/8 (BLT 2/8) under Lt. Colonel Tony Corwin, Composite Helicopter Squadron 264 (HMM-264) Led by Lt. Colonel Joseph Byrtus, Jr. and MEU service support group 24 (MSSG-24) led by Lt. Colonel Richard Kohl, counting about 2,000 Marines.[4] The Marine Expeditionary Unit had been under the command of Commodore Turner, commander, Mediterranean Amphibious Ready Group 1–91, aboard his flagship, the USS Guadalcanal, but were transferred to Combine Task Force (CFT) Provide Comfort on 14 April and was 3 months into a 6-month routine Mediterranean deployment. The 24th MEU (SOC) would initially serve as the command to a regiment sized force consisting of all MEU elements, 697 Royal Marines from 45 Commando (22 April), commanded by Lt. Colonel Jonathan Thompson and 400 Marines from the Dutch 1st Amphibious Combat Group (1st ACG) commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Cees Van Egmond (arrived 23 April) for purposes of containing Zakho until the Iraqi forces would withdraw from the area. On 29 April, 3rd Commando Brigade took back command of 45 Commando, 29th Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery and the 1st ACG for expanded operations to the east. On 4 May, BLT 2/8 commenced operations to the south of Zakho along the route to Dohuk. The MEU then began to move back to Silopi, beginning with the BLT on June 15. 24th MEU left North Iraq on July 15 and embarked on 19 July for the United States, ending its 6-month deployment.[5]

The 24th MEU (SOC) along with Joint Task Force Bravo (Task Force Alpha was responsible for the Kurd camps in the mountains) grew in size in the days following April 20. The MEU was joined by 4th Brigade (Aviation), 3rd Infantry Division, 18th Engineer Brigade, Naval Mobil Construction Battalion 133, 18th Military Police Brigade, 418th Civil Affairs Battalion USAR, 432 Civil Affairs Battalion USAR, and 431st Civil Affairs Battalion USAR, Canadian 4th Field Ambulance, 3d Battalion, 325th Infantry (Airborne)(reinforced)(arriving on 27 April), 40 Commando, 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery, the French 8th Marine Parachute Infantry (Cougar Force), a Spanish expeditionary force formed from the 1st Airborne Brigade, "Roger De Flor" and the Italian Folgore Parachute Brigade. All together military forces from 10 countries participated deploying 20,000 military personnel. The Kurds were housed in Camp Jahawk and Camp Badger. The mayor of Jayhawk was MAJ Carl Fischer and the mayor of Badger was MAJ John Elliott.

The U.S. contributed to the operation with the United Kingdom who providing the initiative and significant ground and air forces with 3 Commando Brigade and the RAF. Other allies included France, the Netherlands and Australia. Britain deployed 40 and 45 Commando Royal Marines and air transport assets to help protect refugees and to deliver humanitarian aid. The British used the name Operation Haven.[6][7][8] France deployed transport aircraft and special forces, the Netherlands deployed troops from the Netherlands Marine Corps and an Army Medical/Engineering Battalion, and Australia contributed transport aircraft and medical, dental and preventive health teams (under the Australian name, Operation Habitat).[9]

Operation Provide Comfort ended on 24 July 1991.

Operation Provide Comfort II

As seen from the cockpit of a Fighter Squadron 41 (VF-41) F-14A Tomcat aircraft, a Fighter Squadron 84 (VF-84) Tomcat, background, and another VF-41 Tomcat fly in formation at an aerial refueling meeting point during Operation Provide Comfort, a multinational effort to aid Kurdish refugees in southern Turkey and northern Iraq.

Operation Provide Comfort II began on 24 July 1991, the same day Provide Comfort ended. This operation was primarily military in nature, and its mission was to prevent Iraqi aggression against the Kurds.

Partly as a result of Western commitment to the Kurds, Iraqi troops were withdrawn from the Kurdish regions in October 1991 and these areas assumed de facto independence.

On 5 April 1992, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force bombed bases in northern Iraq belonging to the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran. Iraqi jets were scrambled to intercept the intruders while Coalition aircraft did not interfere.[1]

On 15 January 1993, Iraqi air defense sites opened fire on two USAF F-111 bombers. On 17 January, Iraqi Su-22s fired on two F-16 jets, and a U.S. F-4 Phantom destroyed an Iraqi radar which had been targeting French reconnaissance aircraft. Around a half-hour later, an American F-16 shot down an Iraqi MiG-23 Flogger which had crossed into the no-fly zone.[10][11] The next day, American F-16s bombed Bashiqah Airfield and F-4 Phantoms attacked Iraqi air defense sites. Over the next few days and months, more Iraqi sites fired on the American patrols, and several were attacked. That August, the USAF deployed the F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft to Turkey, and on 18 August, these aircraft dropped four laser-guided bombs on an Iraqi SA-3 site near Mosul.[1]

On 14 April 1994, two USAF F-15 Eagle fighters on patrol mistakenly downed two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters carrying 26 Coalition citizens, killing all aboard.

On 9 December 1995, F-4 Phantom II aircraft of the Idaho Air National Guard finished their tour of duty with Combined Task Force Provide Comfort at Incirlik Air Base. This was the last operational use of the F-4 Phantom by the USAF.[1]

In August 1996, Iraqi troops intervened in the Kurdish regions of Iraq, and the United States responded with Operation Desert Strike against targets in southern Iraq. As a result, some incidents occurred in northern Iraq, and the United States launched an operation to evacuate certain pro-American Kurds from northern Iraq.

The operation ended officially on 31 December 1996 at the request of the Government of Turkey who wanted to improve relations with Iran and Iraq. It was followed by Operation Northern Watch, which began on 1 January 1997 with the mission of enforcing the northern no-fly zone. France declined to participate in Operation Northern Watch.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Operation Provide Comfort II". Globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 10 October 2008.
  2. http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/humanitarian_intervention/index.html). Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. http://www.ifrad.us/11acrhistory.html. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. Humanitarian Operation in Northern Iraq 1991: With Marines in Operation Provide Comfort, Lt Colonel Ronald J Brown USMCR, 1995,
  5. Humanitarian Operation in Northern Iraq 1991: With Marines in Operation Provide Comfort, Lt Colonel Ronald J Brown USMCR, 1995
  6. "1991: UK forces withdraw from Kurdish haven". BBC News. 14 July 1991. Retrieved 10 October 2008.
  7. "Royal Marines – Operations , History". Eliteukforces.info. Retrieved 10 October 2008.
  8. Rudd, Gordon W. (2004). Humanitarian Intervention - Assisting the Iraqi Kurds in Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, 1991 (PDF). United States Department of the Army. p. 108.
  9. "Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)". defence.gov.au. Archived from the original on 1 May 2008. Retrieved 10 October 2008.
  10. "F-16 Airframe Details for 86-0262". F-16.net. Retrieved 2012-12-23.
  11. Archived September 29, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.

Further reading

Humanitarian Operations in Northern Iraq: With Marines in Operation Provide Comfort

Operation Haven Northern Iraq 1991 url = http://britains-smallwars.com/RRGP/SafeHaven.htm

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