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Operation Provide Comfort II

Operation Provide Comfort II, a show of force to deter new Iraqi attacks on the Kurds, began 24 July 1991 and had only limited humanitarian aspects to its mission. It ended 31 December 1996. The Air Force executed the bulk of the missions over northern Iraq in Operation Provide Comfort, flying over 4,500 sorties in 1996 -- about 60 percent of the coalition total since 1991. While US fighters patrolled the skies over northern Iraq enforcing the no-fly zone, Air Force airlift and air refueling aircraft transported troops and equipment in support of these ongoing operations.

Provide Comfort eventually settled into a routine. Personnel arrived at Incirlik and villages in Iraq, then departed on a 90 to 120 day cycle. Crews continued to airlift supplies into the region for distribution to the Kurds and other minorities, while fighters patrolled the sky. The missions may have become routine, but the threat in Iraq was very real. On several occasions, Iraqi surface-to-air missile sites and antiaircraft artillery emplacements tracked aircraft using radar, and in some instances actually fired. The task force frequently responded by attacking such threats with anti-radiation missiles or cluster bombs.

On 15 January 1993 Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fired on a pair of Provide Comfort F-111Fs in two separate incidents. Neither aircraft was hit; neither returned fire. Two days later coalition aircraft fought back. Iraqi AAA fired on two Provide Comfort F-16s. Neither plane was hit and neither returned fire. About an hour later, an F-4G attacked an air defense site that was targeting French reconnaissance planes. An hour and a half after that, a Provide Comfort F-16 shot down an Iraqi MiG over northern Iraq. The next day, F-4Gs attacked surface-to-air missile sites in northern Iraq after being fired on, and F-16s dropped cluster bombs on Bashiqah airfield after being attacked by AAA fire. In two separate incidents, on 19 January, Provide Comfort aircraft clashed with Iraqi air defenses. An F-4G fired a missile at a SAM radar site east of Mosul after the radar "locked onto" the Weasel. About three hours later, two F-16s dropped cluster bombs on a AAA site after being fired at. A F-16 and an F-4G escorting a French Mirage reconnaissance plane over northern Iraq attacked an Iraqi missile battery after the site's search radar began tracking them on 21 January, and the following day an F-4G fired two missiles at a SAM site in northern Iraq. Iraqi ground forces continued to fire sporadically at Provide Comfort aircraft in instances on 3 Feb and 9 April. Than on 18 April 1993 an Iraqi radar site illuminated two Provide Comfort Wild Weasels flying north of the 36th parallel. One of the Weasels, an F-4G, fired an AGM-88 at the tracking radar and destroyed it and on 19 August 1993, two Provide Comfort F-16s reported possible SA-3 launches west of Mosul and responded with cluster bombs. Two F-15s dropped four laser-guided bombs on the site an hour later.

Aircrews proved not to be the only ones in danger when Iraqi troops fired on a patrol from CTF Provide Comfort's Military Coordination Center near Faydah in northern Iraq on 21 December 1993. The patrol turned out to be within the security zone established on 22 May 1991; the Iraqis were over a mile away, and outside the security zone. Baghdad denied Western reports of the incident as "fabricated and baseless." Despite these numerous acts of aggression, all aircraft and aircrew returned safely to their bases. As it turned out before any of the Iraqis succeeded in bringing down any of our aircraft we would prove to be the victims of our own fallacies.

On April 14, 1994, two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters and their crews assigned to Operation Provide Comfort were transporting U.S., United Kingdom, French, and Turkish military officers; Kurdish representatives; and a U.S. political advisor in northern Iraq. Concurrently, a U.S. Air Force Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft flew over Turkey to provide airborne threat warning and control for Operation Provide Comfort aircraft, including the Black Hawk helicopters. The pilots of two U.S. F-15 fighters patrolling the area misidentified the Black Hawks as Iraqi Hind helicopters and shot them down, killing all 26 individuals aboard.

In October 1995, the UN assumed the responsibility of the humanitarian portion of OPC while the CTF focused solely on the security portion.

In August 1996 the most serious fighting to date broke out in northern Iraq between the PUK and KDP, ending a US-brokered cease-fire. An escalation of skirmishes between the two main Kurdish factions, the KDP and PUK, occurred between 17-22 August 1996 prompting the KDP to make an unexpected and dangerous move. On 31 August KDP leadership "made a deal with the devil" as it invited the Iraqi army to attack the city of Irbil, under control by the PUK. Claiming that the PUK was receiving active Iranian support, the KDP leader, Marsoud Barzani, appealed to Baghdad for assistance. Saddam Hussein launched his forces into the "Provide Comfort" zone. They quickly turned the tide in favor of the KDP.

The attack between the Kurdish groups placed the US and other coalition members into a very uncomfortable predicament. On 2 September, the CTF pulled the few remaining personnel left in northern Iraq and launched Operation DESERT STRIKE against Iraqi military targets in retaliation to the attack on Irbil. B-52 aircraft from the 2BW and USN ships in the Gulf launched 27 cruise missiles against targets in southern Iraq. Two Navy ships launched 14 Tomahawk missiles, while two B-52s fired 13 conventionally armed cruise missiles. President Clinton also ordered the Southern Watch no-fly zone extended one degree further north to 33 degrees north, which meant a line just south of Baghdad.

Additional operations, QUICK TRANSITS I-II evacuated and resettled some US friendly Kurds from Northern Iraq to the US.

The Iraqi incursion effectively ended Provide Comfort, although allied troops remained in southern Turkey to support the remnants of the operation. On Christmas Day 1996, the Turkish Grand National Assembly approved a new, smaller operation to replace Provide Comfort. Shortly thereafter, France announced it would not participate in the successor operation, since it would not include humanitarian aid to the Kurds. Operation PROVIDE COMFORT II ended on 31 December 1996 -- the USAF had flown more than 42,000 fixed-wing sorties while the entire task force flew nearly 20,000 additional fixed- and rotary-wing sorties.

There still existed a need to monitor Iraq's activities over the no-fly zone and carefully watch its weapons of mass destruction, considering the regime's willingness to use it as evidenced in the March 1988 attack. Thus the CTF's mission changed its focus from the enforcement of UNSCR 688 to UNSCR 687 and the transition from OPC to Operation NORTHERN WATCH commenced.

Chronology of Significant Events

  • 1 January 1997 -- The Turkish government approved a continuing air operation from Turkey, and Operation NORTHERN WATCH commenced.

    1996

  • 31 December 1996 -- Operation PROVIDE COMFORT officially ended. The US had flown more than 42,000 fixed-wing sorties during the operation, while the Combined Task Force flew nearly 62,000 fixed- and rotary-wing sorties.
  • 27 December 1996 - France announced it would not take part in the successor operation to Provide Comfort, on the grounds that the new operation did not include humanitarian aid to the Kurds.
  • 7-13 October 1996 - Combined Task Force Provide Comfort and the 39th Wing at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, assisted the US Department of State in Quick Transit III, the evacuation of 3,783 pro-US Kurds from northern Iraq.
  • 15-22 October 1996 - Combined Task Force Provide Comfort and the 39th Wing at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, assisted the US Department of State in Quick Transit II, the evacuation of 604 pro-US Kurds from northern Iraq.
  • 15-18 September 1996 - Combined Task Force Provide Comfort and the 39th Wing at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, assisted the US Department of State in Quick Transit I, the evacuation of 2,106 pro-US Kurds from northern Iraq to Guam.
  • 11 September 1996 -- Iraqi gunners fired an SA-6 missile at two US F-16s over northern Iraq but missed; a fighter and helicopter briefly violated the southern no-fly zone. The US deployed two B-52s to Diego Garcia and ordered F-117A fighters to the Gulf.
  • 3 September 1996 -- Retaliating for the Iraqi attack, the US launched 27 cruise missiles against targets in southern Iraq. Two Navy ships launched 14 Tomahawk missiles, while two B-52s fired 13 conventionally armed cruise missiles. The US also extended the Southern Watch no-fly zone to include all areas of Iraq south of the 33d parallel, one degree further north.
  • 31 August 1996 -- Iraqi forces intervened in fighting between Kurdish factions in northern Iraq, helping the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) capture Irbil, the main Kurdish city in northern Iraq.

    1995

  • 9 December 1995 - F-4Gs of the Idaho National Guard completed their tour of duty at Combined Task Force Provide Comfort, Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. This was probably the last appearance of the Phantom in USAFE.

    1994

  • 14 April 1994 - A pair of UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters were shot down by 2 US Air Force F-15's flying out of Incirlik, Turkey. The F-15s misidentified the Black Hawks as Iraqi Hinds violating the "no fly" zone. All 6 crewmena aboard the helicopters were killed, along with 20 passengers, including UN observers in the Provide Comfort Zone and military officers from Britain, France and Turkey. An internal Department of Defense investigation into this friendly-fire accident was concluded on May 27, 1994. The helicopter crew members were apparently not aware of the correct transponder codes used to identify friendly aircraft for use within the area. Air Force leveled charges against six of the officers involved in the accident, including one of the F-15 pilots who mistakenly identified the Black Hawks as enemy aircraft. The Air Force later dropped charges against everyone except Captain Jim Wang, who had been in charge of the Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft monitoring both the fighters and helicopters in the "no fly" area. Captain Wang, senior director on board the E-3B AWACS aircraft, was charged on 31 August 1994, with five counts of dereliction of duty, and was acquitted at a court-martial of three counts of dereliction of duty 20 June 1995. Following an extensive aircraft accident investigation, the publication of a 24-volume report and a detailed multi-command review of procedures and policies, Air Force implemented a number of specific actions to preclude similar incidents in the future.
  • January 1994 - Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria granted overflight rights for 11 USAFE F-16s deploying from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, shaving 2 hours off of the normal flight time. The flight marked the first time US Air Force fighters had flown over these countries on an operational mission since World War II.

    1993

  • 21 December 1993 -- Iraqi troops fired on a patrol from CTF Provide Comfort's Military Coordination Center near Faydah in northern Iraq. The patrol was within the security zone established 22 May 1991; the Iraqis were over a mile away and outside the security zone. Baghdad denied Western reports of the incident as "fabricated and baseless."
  • 19 August 1993 -- Two Provide Comfort F-16s reported possible SA-3 launches west of Mosul and responded with cluster bombs. Two F-15s dropped four laser-guided bombs on the site an hour later.
  • 2 August 1993 - The first F-15Es to serve with Combined Task Force Provide Comfort, six aircraft from the 492d Fighter Squadron, arrived at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.
  • 18 April 1993 -- An Iraqi radar site illuminated two Provide Comfort Wild Weasels flying north of the 36th parallel. The site was south of the parallel. One of the Weasels, an F-4G, fired an AGM-88 at the tracking radar and destroyed it.
  • 9 April 1993 -- Iraqi AAA sites fired on Provide Comfort aircraft near the Saddam Dam in northern Iraq.
  • 3 February 1993 -- Iraqi gunners fired at Provide Comfort aircraft on routine patrol over northern Iraq.
  • 22 January 1993 -- An F-4G fired two missiles at a SAM site in northern Iraq.
  • 21 January 1993 -- A F-16 and an F-4G escorting a French Mirage reconnaissance plane over northern Iraq attacked an Iraqi missile battery after the site's search radar began tracking them.
  • 19 January 1993 -- In two separate incidents, Provide Comfort aircraft clashed with Iraqi air defenses. An F-4G fired a missile at a SAM radar site east of Mosul after the radar "locked onto" the Weasel. About three hours later, two F-16s dropped cluster bombs on a AAA site after being fired at.
  • 18 January 1993 -- Provide Comfort F-4Gs attacked surface-to-air missile sites in northern Iraq after being fired on, and F-16s dropped cluster bombs on Bashiqah airfield after being attacked by AAA fire. In the south, JTF Southern Watch sent 75 US, British, and French aircraft to attack Iraqi missile sites south of the 32d parallel.
  • 17 January 1993 -- Iraqi AAA fired on two Provide Comfort F-16s. Neither plane was hit and neither returned fire. About an hour later, an F-4G attacked an air defense site that was targeting French reconnaissance planes. An hour and a half after that, a Provide Comfort F-16 shot down an Iraqi MiG over northern Iraq,. In the south, US warships fired 45 cruise missiles against the Zarfaraniyah nuclear fabrication facility near Baghdad.
  • 15 January 1993 -- Iraqi AAA fired on a pair of Provide Comfort F-111Fs in two separate incidents. Neither aircraft was hit; neither returned fire.

    1992

  • 5 April 1992 -- Iranian warplanes attacked rebel bases inside Iraq. Iraq responded by scrambling fighters and (unsuccessfully) pursuing the intruders. Combined Task Force Provide Comfort did not interfere. The Iraqis continued to fly on succeeding days, effectively overturning the ban on all their flying which they had observed since 22 March 1991.

    1991

  • 24 July 1991 - Operation Provide Comfort ended; the task force had delivered more than 17,000 tons of supplies (6,000 tons airdropped, 6,500 tons by helicopter, and the rest by surface transport). Meanwhile, Operation Provide Comfort II commenced with General Jamerson assuming command of the new organization. Provide Comfort II continued as a show of force to deter Iraqi attacks on the Kurds, and had only limited humanitarian aspects to its mission.
  • 15 July 1991 - Combined Task Force Provide Comfort withdrew from northern Iraq. A residual force remained in Turkey to deter Iraqi reprisals against the Kurds.
  • 27 June 1991 -- As Provide Comfort ground units began their withdrawal from northern Iraq, US officials reiterated their earlier ban on Iraqi flights north of the 36th parallel.
  • 7 June 1991 - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees assumed responsibility for the refugee camps constructed by Combined Task Force Provide Comfort in northern Iraq.
  • 6 June 1991 - The last Operation Provide Comfort border camp closed.
  • 7 May 1991 - In two separate incidents 10 minutes apart, an A-10 and an F-16 reported coming under antiaircraft artillery fire while over northern Iraq.
  • 17 April 1991 - Lt Gen John M. Shalikashvili, US Army, replaced General Jamerson as the commander. General Jamerson remained as deputy commander.
  • 11 April 1991 - The United Nations announced the formal end to the Persian Gulf War.
  • 10 April 1991 -- US officials warned Iraq not to interfere with relief operations. No Iraqi planes (fixed- or rotary-winged) were to fly north of the 36th parallel.
  • 7 April 1991 -- After British and French cargo aircraft arrived, General Jamerson redesignated the organization a Combined Task Force. Combined Task Force Provide Comfort began humanitarian relied operations from Incirlik AB, Turkey. The task force dropped its first supplies to Kurdish refugees.
  • 6 April 1991 - Joint Task Force Provide Comfort formed and deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, to conduct humanitarian operations in northern Iraq. A Kurdish revolt against the Iraqi government failed, and about 1.5 million refugees fled to the mountains along the border with Turkey and Iran. Maj Gen James L. Jamerson, the USAFE deputy chief of staff for operations, commanded the effort.
  • 5 April 1991 -- United Nations Resolution 688, which demanded Iraq immediately end repression of its civilian population, was adopted by the Security Council. President Bush ordered US European Command to assist Kurds and other refugees in the mountains of northern Iraq. The Kurds had rebelled against Iraqi rule following Baghdad’s defeat in the Gulf war, but Iraqi forces soon defeated the rebels. Meanwhile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered forces in Europe to airdrop of essential supplies to displaced persons in northern Iraq by 7 April, and to prepare to deploy a US military medical unit to southern Turkey.
  • 22 March 1991 -- A US F-15C shot down another Iraqi SU-22 over northern Iraq. That same day, another US pilot intimidated the pilot of an Iraqi PC-9 (a training aircraft) to eject. Iraqi fixed-wing aircraft stayed on the ground for the next 12 months.
  • 20 March 1991 -- A US F-15C shot down an Iraqi SU-22 flying over northern Iraq.
  • 3 March 1991 -- At cease-fire talks with the Iraqis at Safwan, General Norman Schwarzkopf warned the Iraqis that coalition forces would shot down any Iraqi military aircraft flying over the country.
  • 28 February 1991 -- President George Bush announced a cease-fire, ending the Gulf War.

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