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The Iraqi military brutally suppressed the ethnic insurrections in both Southern and Northern Iraq in the wake of Operation DESERT STORM. President Bush directed that a relief effort be undertaken along the Turkish-Iraqi border to save Kurdish civilians that had fled into the mountains. This effort was initially to air-deliver relief items to the civilians no later than 7 April 1991, and to include plans for medical unit support to be provided in the southern border area of Turkey if this became necessary. In contrast, on 22 March 1991, the 1st Brigade of the 3d Armored Division was tasked to begin humanitarian relief operations. This mission was accomplished, for the most part, with its own military assets.

The humanitarian relief mission in Operation DESERT STORM was marked by the relative absence of Dislocated Civilians during the short ground war." Those that were encountered were mostly in the Safwan, Iraq, area. Essentially non-governmental/ organizations (NGOs) and private volunteer organizations (PVOs) were not available due to the combat environment. Even after hostilities, outside assistance was very sparse because of unexploded ordnance. On the other hand, Operation PROVIDE COMFORT was a relief operation from the beginning. Continuing hostilities were a consideration, but not a major factor. There was significant NGO/PVO participation in Operation PROVIDE COMFORT.

The Commander in Chief, U.S. European Command, established Joint Task Force Provide Comfort (JTFPC) to direct the humanitarian efforts in southern Turkey and northern Iraq. The concept of operations consisted of providing immediate relief items and the development of a force to provide an organized, sustained effort for protracted humanitarian assistance," until international relief agencies and PVOs could assume overall supervision of effort. On 6 April 1991, JTFPC arrived at Incirlik AB, Turkey, and began the first air drop less than 36 hours later.

On 16 April 1991, the President of the United States, authorized by UN resolution 688, expanded Operation PROVIDE COMFORT to include multinational forces with the additional mission of establishing temporary refuge camps in northern Iraq. Combined Task Force Provide Comfort (CTFPC) would oversee the building of shelters and distribution of supplies, ensure order, and provide security throughout this area. The provision of security was essential to get the Kurds to move from the mountains back to their homes and transfer the responsibility for them from the military to international agencies. This was accomplished by simply expanding the security zone.

The tactic of developing smaller camps along family and tribal lines linked to distribution points encouraged Kurdish leaders to take responsibility for camp labor and security. This concept was extremely successful and allowed the multinational force to concentrate on providing supplies, medical assistance, communication, transportation, and outside security. This innovative approach enabled 480,000 refuges to be either turned over to international agencies or returned to their homes. It also allowed the withdrawal of the multinational force from Iraq by 15 July 1991.

The accomplishment of this mission by 12 countries and some 50 relief agencies, without a memorandum of understanding, is a testimonial to the participants' commitment to the humanitarian mission. The uniqueness of this operation can be further characterized by the extensive use of the military in relief roles, the use of military forces already mobilized for Operation DESERT STORM, and the integration of military and humanitarian objectives.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias