Operation Provide Comfort

   The term Operation Provide Comfort (sometimes called Operation Poised Hammer in Turkey) was used to refer to both the U.S.-led humanitarian operations that enabled the Kurdish refugees to return to their homes in a safe haven in northern Iraq after their failed uprising in March 1991 and the allied (largely United States) planes that enforced the no-fly zone over northern Iraq.
   Following suggestions from Turkish president Turgut Ozal, French president Francois Mitterrand, and the prime minister of Great Britain, John Major, OPC began on 5 April 1991. Its original mission was to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to Iraqi Kurdish refugees who had fled to the mountains of northern Iraq and across the border into southern Turkey to escape repression from Saddam Hussein at the end of the 1991 Gulf War and upon failure of the subsequent Kurdish uprising. At one time or another, coalition forces from 13 different states participated. At its peak in May 1991, the United States had more than 12,000 military personnel committed to relief efforts, and they were part of an overall coalition force of nearly 22,000 people. U.S. General Richard M. Naab played a prominent role in the implementation of these humanitarian objectives.
   Subsequently, OPC officially continued until the end of 1996 in the form of 80 combat and support aircraft stationed at the Incirlik air base in Turkey's southern Adana province. From there they made frequent patrol flights over Iraqi Kurdistan to enforce the no-fly zone that protected the Iraqi Kurds from Iraqi incursions. Turkish permission was thus necessary for OPC's continuance and had to be renewed at frequent intervals. A small Military Coordination Center (MCC) team was also stationed in Zakho in Iraqi Kurdistan near the Turkish border to monitor conditions. Several thousand local Kurds were employed in relief and intelligence operations. The United States, Great Britain, and France were the main Western participants.
   The continuance of OPC became a major political issue in Turkey, because many Turks believed it was facilitating the vacuum of authority in northern Iraq that enabled the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to enjoy sanctuaries there. Some even argued that OPC was the opening salvo of a new Treaty of Sevres that would lead to the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Thus, went the argument, Turkey was facilitating its own demise by housing it. On the other hand, to abandon support for OPC would simply lead it to regroup elsewhere and strip Turkey of influence over events. Indeed, OPC gave Turkey important intelligence information on PKK units in northern Iraq and also enabled Turkey to intervene in northern Iraq with relative impunity.
   Following Massoud Barzani's opportunistic alliance with Saddam Hussein in August 1996, the small military mission in Zakho was withdrawn to Turkey and OPC relief efforts in northern Iraq terminated. The French withdrew from the force, while a scaled-down Operation Northern Watch continued to enforce the no-fly zone after 1 January 1997 until the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .

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