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BACKGROUND: VII Corps was given the mission on 19 March 1991 to begin humanitarian relief operations in sector, following their efforts during the ground war against Iraq. The 3d Armored Division was responsible for the Safwan area. Following is a summary of this highly successful three-phase Corps operation.


INITIAL RELIEF OPERATIONS. The first phase included food and water distribution and emergency medical care, as well as building the infrastructure to execute this mission.

TASK ORGANIZATION, PHASE 1: Task Force (TF) 4-32 selected the location and provided security for the site. The 122d Main Support Battalion (MSB), Division Support Command (DISCOM) and the Division Surgeon's office provided daily medical assistance, supplies and equipment and administrative and technical support to reestablish the Safwan medical clinic. The 404th Civil Affairs Company provided the administrative resources for bulk food distribution, and coordination with the local population. The 22d Chemical Company assisted in the disribution of supplies at the refugee supply point (Class I, IV, and VIII).

The Brigade was also provided linguists. Throughout the duration of the operation, their number varied between five and twenty-two. Some of their duties were to:

  • Assist law enforcement and counterintelligence missions.
  • Translate medical symptoms and administrative support documents.
  • Assist at check points.
  • Educate the populace on health issues and the dangers of unexploded munitions.


The capacity of the initial temporary holding area was quickly exceeded when the number of displaced individuals seeking food and medical assistance grew by an estimated two thousand people in a 24-hour period. A new temporary refugee site (TRS) was then located two kilometers north of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border, and the transportation of the refugees to this new site began.

As the refugees entered the TRS, they were searched, registered, and provided food and water. Tents, blankets, shoes, clothing, and materiel for constructing shelters were provided as necessary. As the TRS evolved, the "village elders" established eight states or villages. The eighth village was restricted to single males. The life support system within the TRS was comprised of a medical aid station, a water supply point consisting of three 3,000-gallon blevits mounted on trailers (refills daily), and the daily food delivery point (either MREs, MOREs, or bulk food). The compound had both a trash pit and slit trenches for latrine facilities. It was a constant effort by the TF 4-32 to encourage the residents to maintain even marginal sanitary conditions.

Emergency Ordnance Disposal (EOD) determined that there was enough work for an 11-man EOD detachment for at least six months. Destruction of unstable munitions (Cluster Bomb Units (CBUs)) was first priority with a secondary emphasis on stable munitions. Furthermore, EOD operations would clear Iraq first, then Kuwait. Initially, the brigade was provided one team from the 43rd EOD detachment. On or about 28 March 1991, VII Corps provided the brigade four EOD teams from the 54th EOD. Guidance from Corps stipulated that the clearing effort was to be within a 5-kilometer radius of Safwan as it was a high traffic area. Because of the immediate danger to the local population, as well as to the soldiers, the Brigade distributed thousands of flyers in Arabic warning the populations to stay away from munitions that littered the area. The population was encouraged to provide information on the location of munitions to soldiers. One method used was for local residents to provide a U.S. Army linguist, stationed in the market place, to receive information on the location of dangerous ordnance. The residents would then escort the EOD team to the site. Local residents could also drop off information to the personnel at the Safwan Medical Clinic.

TOPIC: Need for an S-5 in Maneuver Brigades.

DISCUSSION: In Safwan, Iraq, the 1st Brigade, 3d Armored Division, took on the refugee support mission. Within the maneuver battalions and the DS artillery and support battalions, the brigade had sufficient assets to support the mission. But it lacked a staff officer knowledgeable in CA and familiar with local customs, who could deal directly with the local population. The Division CA officer cannot handle affairs for both the division and the subordinate brigades.


  • Assign a CA officer to the brigade staff during deployment.

  • While the brigade had several officers on TDY from the States attached to the staff in Southwest Asia who filled special roles, having trained CA officers assigned to the unit would have allowed for a much smoother transition into the refugee support mission and more efficient use of the resources at hand.

TOPIC: Engineer Support.

DISCUSSION: Setting up and operating a refugee camp is very engineer-intensive. Constructing everything from latrines to compound boundaries to living areas required some type of engineer support. Latrines and trash pits must be constantly covered up and redug.

LESSON(S): A dedicated engineer company with one bulldozer and one backhoe must always be available.

TOPIC: Crowd Control.

DISCUSSION: Initially any new policy or procedure was met with confusion and surging crowds. As the refugees became more comfortable with the new policy and procedures, they became more orderly. The refugees were easily stirred up and occasionally staged demonstrations" for the media.

LESSON(S): Initially, use triple concertina wire for crowd control at water and food distribution sites.

TOPIC: Class I.

DISCUSSION: The rations issued to the refugees consisted of MREs, MOREs and B rations. Difficulties arose when bulk food was distributed and had to be broken down into smaller units. Also, MRE and MORE issue resulted in a lot of trash and wasted food.

LESSON(S): Provide food stuffs more suitable to the diet of the refugees. Bulk rice, vegetables, and flour were in demand.

TOPIC: Housing.

DISCUSSION: The refugee camp had several buildings within the compound. As the refugees moved in and filled the buildings, they began to construct housing throughout the compound. Materials from the camp and surrounding areas were used to construct ramshackle houses. There were a few tents available, but not enough. Some of the materials for these shacks came from constructed latrines.

LESSON(S): It is very important to stop the building of ramshackle houses. Tents worked well, especially the big ones obtained from the Red Cross.

TOPIC: Latrines.

DISCUSSION: Over 10,000 people were using the latrines. This required the closing and opening of two latrines daily. The lack of engineer support made this task impossible and led to unsanitary conditions.

LESSON(S): Dedicated additional engineer support is absolutely necessary for sanitary conditions. As a minimum, provide one bulldozer and one backhoe at all times.


Phase II consisted of sustainment and program enhancement. In addition to that mentioned in Phase I, TF 4-32 was also responsible for establishing and administrating local security, law enforcement, and EOD operations within the city of Safwan. The 122nd MSB was responsible for the bulk water distribution within the TRS and Safwan as well as for working with the 12th Engineers in operating the city well. The 404th CA provided some administrative support in managing the TRS, established local water and electrical power projections, and coordination for the repatriation of Iraqis to the Safwan/Bashra area. The 2-3d Field Artillery (FA) was responsible for distributing food to the rural areas surrounding Safwan. They were also tasked to provide the transportation assets needed to distribute supplies (food and water) in support of the humanitarian effort. TF 3-5 Cav and TF 5-5 Cav supplemented the 2-3d FA when additional haul assets were required.

Because of the factional infighting and lack of a governmental infastructure, the security situation in the Safwan area was very unstable. Pro- and Anti-Saddam groups operated in the area, as well as numerous bandit groups who took advantage of the situation. This situation was aggravated by Iraqi security agents that were attempting to infiltrate the area to identify both antigovernment groups and those cooperating with the Americans. Despite these conditions, the counter-intelligence (CI) team was able to establish a network of sources and working relationships with the local populace which contributed to the protection of the local residents, as well as to prevent any attacks directed against U.S. Forces.

During the beginning of the brigade's occupation of the sector, the 404th CA, 12th EN Battalion, and the Bde S-3 conducted a survey of existing water wells in the area. It was determined that the main water supply came from the city of Az Zubair, approximately 30 kilometers to the north. Since that source was turned off, the only available water came from approximately five agriculture (nonpotable) wells. They also discovered that only one well was able to produce the amount of water required to support the city (20,000 gallons). All others were pumped dry. The well pump which could support the city was repaired by element of the 22d Chemical Company and the 12th Engineers. With that all completed, a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU) was installed by the 22d Chemical with security provided by the TF 4-32's mortar platoon. The city's water tower and reservoir were cleaned out, and 90,000 gallons of water were pumped into it. Unfortunately, the pump at the pumping station was unrepairable due to the condition of the pipes and equipment, but water was provided to the city by gravity feed.

The brigade interfaced with a variety of agencies in support of the humanitarian mission. The brigade provided food, water, and communications to the personnel working for the International Red Cross and the League of Red Cross (LORC).

In addition to the food and water provided, the LORC was also provided medical supplies as well as hauling assets to transport displaced individuals to various locations. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) set up an office in the TRS and t he Abu Daly Red Cross camp. The IOM provided or arranged for protection and assistance to citizens from countries other than Iraq or Kuwait who wished to leave Iraq. Displaced individuals that sought asylum had their name submitted to the proper authorities. However, those wishing to immigrate to the United States were encouraged by the U.S. Embassy to seek asylum with other Middle Eastern countries. The brigade had little contact or dealings with the Red Crescent, the Middle Eastern equivalent to the Red Cross, as its effort was to assist the Kuwaits and the Egyptians.

During the third week of April, the brigade began preparations to receive and conduct a UN handover. The brigade engineer effort was focused toward the construction of company and observer positions, road construction/clearing operations, and installation of life support systems (tents, latrines, shavers).

TOPIC: Camp Construction.

DISCUSSION: The site chosen for the refugee camp at Safwan already had people occupying the main buildings. The other refugees were quickly moved into the compound area prior to any materials being on hand or before the completion of a plan. The result was that refugees constructed living areas anywhere they could.

LESSON(S): Lay out camp design prior to moving in refugees. Establish tent areas, latrines, and garbage pit areas beforehand, and stick to the plan.

TOPIC: Supply Point Operations.

DISCUSSION: As the Safwan refugee mission grew, so did the volume of supplies. Initially only a platoon was provided to run the supply point, but this quickly grew into an entire company. The division chemical company was given the mission of operating the supply point. Although it did a superb job, a dedicated company with the required MHE would have been better. At times MHE from the FSB would be used to move supplies, thereby depleting the FSB's capability to accomplish its support mission for the brigade.

LESSON(S): Use a supply company in operating a supply point. It is trained and equipped to accomplish the mission on a routine basis.

TOPIC: Food Distribution.

DISCUSSION: During the Safwan refugee mission, units were tasked to provide heavy, expanded mobility tactical trucks (HEMTTs) on a daily basis to transport rations to the camp and checkpoints. The HEMTTs would arrive at the supply point at various degrees of dependability, causing delays in the transportation of food.

LESSON(S): Organize a transportation section that works directly for the supply officer of the refugee mission by using internal assets.

TOPIC: Water for Safwan.

DISCUSSION: The Iraqis removed parts or pumps from the town wells. This severely restricted the water output for the town. Several combat engineers and the TF 4-32 motar platoon worked a water point in town with Army pumps.

LESSON(S): Task a higher echelon construction engineer unit to repair the well equipment or provide new equipment. The mission should have been to operate the town's water points.

TOPIC: Security.

DISCUSSION: A tank company provided security for the refugee camp. Additionally, all males entering the compound were searched for weapons and explosives. The females were not searched except for any bags they were carrying. The CI personnel who worked the interior of the camp were not always present and did not always coordinate their actions.

LESSON(S): There is a need for several female MPs/soldiers to search the females coming into the camp. There should also be a dedicated CI person working for the sector commander.

TOPIC: Law and Order in the Safwan Area.

DISCUSSION: A wide variety of law enforcement tasks were performed during the humanitarian assistance period at Safwan. Several platoons from different MP companies operated in the area. There was no established ROE, and if a suspect was apprehended, he was usually released back into the area.


  • Establish clear rules of engagement and place all MPs under the sector commander who should report to the relief mission commander.

  • Establish a confinement facility to hold suspects and keep them as long as needed.

  • Provide clear legal guidance to the sector commander. Commanders need to know the extent of their legal authority while protecting the force. Each sector commander should have available legal personnel to advise him on local laws, international law and U.S. military judicial authority.

TOPIC: Organization of Camp Inhabitants.

DISCUSSION: Due to the size of the refugee camp and the wide range of inhabitants, the camp needed a stable infrastructure. An attempt was made to divide the camp into sections corresponding with the cities of the people hurt by the effort. Daily meetings were held to coordinate camp operations with camp leaders.


  • Establish a stable infrastructure and conduct daily meetings.
  • Removal of trash and garbage and general police of camp needs to be stressed daily.


Phase III of the humanitarian effort involved the closing of the TRS and the evacuation of refugees to Saudi Arabia. The 404th CA coordinated teh final distribution of seven-day stocks of bulk food to the city of Safwan and provided administrative support for the refugee evacuation plan.

Outlined below is the humanitarian effort in terms of food, water and medical support provided during the 45-day period (21 March 1991 through 6 May 1991). The number of meals reflects the distribution of food made at the TRS, rural food runs, as well as those made in the city of Safwan during the humanitarian and security mission.

  • Safwan residents registered for food: 11,370
  • Refugees registered at the TRS: 13,005
  • Number of meals: 979,822 (MREs/MOREs)
  • Bottled water, case: 173,906 (12 x 1.5 liter)
  • Bulk water, gal: 1,136,700
  • Patients treated: Over 20,000 (mobile MEDCAP and aid station)

On 26 April 1991, while preparing for the UN handover, the USAF conducted an assessment to determine the viability of flying the refugees from Safwan Airfield. Once it was determined that they be flown to a camp in Rahfa, Saudi Arabia (Phase III of the humanitarian effort), the TF 4-32 was responsible for registering the refugees and then transporting them to the airfield where the TF 5-5 Cav took charge as the Departure Airlift Control Group. With 10 interpreters to assist them, the TF 5-5 Cav was also responsible for conducting security searches, billeting and feeding if necessary, preparing the refugees into chalks, palletizing personal belongings, and transporting them from the holding area to the aircraft. The total effort is reflected below:

95/1 Cargo
8,375 persons

btn_tabl.gif 1.21 KTable of Contents
btn_prev.gif 1.18 KSection III - Civilian Relief Agencies
btn_next.gif 1.17 KAppendix A: Relief Agencies

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