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SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

The Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991 is one of the greatest military victories in American history. What was perceived an inexperienced Coalition ground army led by General H. Norman Schwarzkopf fought and defeated a battle-tested Iraqi army in entrenched positions in 100 hours at a cost of less than 100 lives. Unfortunately, like the current or second Gulf War, massive problems occurred after the victory. Schwarzkopf admitted that he was hoodwinked by the Iraqis who asked for permission to use aircraft for medical and supply purposes.

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General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

He tells the story in It Doesn't Take a Hero, Bantam Books, NY, 1992. Schwarzkopf and his Iraqi counterpart, Lieutenant General Sultan Hashim Ahmad, the Deputy Chief of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, meet at Safwan air field to discuss the arrangements for the ceasefire.

"We have one point" he said. "You know the situation of our roads and bridges and communications." I nodded, thinking of the overwhelming damage our bombing had done. "We would like to fly helicopters to carry the officials of our government in areas where roads and bridges are out. This has nothing to do with the front line. This is inside Iraq."

Schwarzkopf agrees, and then adds:

Then Ahmed said something that should have given me pause. "So you mean even helicopters that are armed can fly in Iraqi skies but not the fighters?"

"Yeah, I will instruct the Air Force not to shoot down any helicopters flying over the territory of Iraq where our troops are not located."

In the following weeks, we discovered what the son of a bitch really had in mind: using helicopter gun ships to suppress rebellions in Basra and other cities.

Permission was granted and the Iraqis immediately began attacking the Muslim Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the North. This ultimately led to operations Southern and Northern Watch to guard the skies against Iraqi military aircraft. The emergency was such that it almost immediately led to Operation Provide Comfort, the attempt by the Coalition to protect and nourish the Kurdish people.

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Areas in red indicate Kurdish population concentration

There are some who blame the United States for the Iraqi attacks on the Kurds. They say that during and shortly after Operation Desert Storm, the United States encouraged the Kurds to rise up against Saddam and promised support for their rebellion.

That always seemed very strange to me because as you can see if you read my article on Operation Desert Storm you will see that none of the 29-million leaflets dropped on the Iraqis called for a revolt against Saddam. In fact, some trial leaflets that were prepared that did call for such actions were not approved for dissemination. The plan was to defeat the Iraqi Army in the field and drive it from Kuwait, not to overthrow the government. So, where did the Kurds (and the Shiites to the South) get the idea that the U.S. Government wanted a rebellion? According to Philip M. Taylor in War and the Media, Propaganda and Persuasion in the Gulf War, Manchester University Press, UK, 1998, the blame falls on the Central Intelligence Agency. He states that there was an uneasy relationship between white (overt) military PSYOP and black (covert) CIA PSYOP:

The latter consisted of black radio transmitters posing as Iraqi stations manned by internal enemies of Saddam Hussein. Because none could supposedly detect the genuine source of messages broadcast by these stations, they were able to deviate from the official coalition line that desert Storm was about the liberation of Kuwait and not about the overthrow of Saddam Hussein…Black radio stations therefore carried messages encouraging an internal revolt within Iraq , but when signs of success in doing this appeared towards the end of the war in the form of Kurdish and Shia uprisings, no actual military support was forthcoming from the West. This was another classic example of the dangers of policy and propaganda getting out of step.

Izumi Nakamitsu, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative at Incirlik claimed that the U.S, had dropped leaflets saying “We will never abandon you” on the Kurds which misrepresented the humanitarian mission and implied a protection that did not exist. The leaflet was never found so there is no proof that it ever existed. It is interesting to note that perhaps because of those rumors, a British leaflet was prepared during the 2003 invasion of Iraq that said "This time we will not abandon you."

The Kurds did revolt in March 1991, occupied the towns of Ranya, Sulemaniye, Arbil, Dahuk, Aqra, and Kirkuk and put the province of Mosul under siege. Saddam Hussein counter-attacked with a vengeance and his revamped Republic Guard drove the Kurds into the mountains. In reality, Saddam’s Kurds had been mistreated and attacked long before America came on the scene. Kurds are the second largest ethnic group in Iraq and Turkey and the third largest group in Iran. Like the Armenians and Jews, the Kurds are a close-knit nationalistic people who want a nation of their own. This land, called Kurdistan, would be made up of parts of Turkey, Iran and Iraq. As a result, the Kurds are unwelcome in all three nations and there were numerous purges and pogroms against them over the centuries. For instance, The Kurds supported Iran in the Iran-Iraq War and as a result in 1988, hundreds of Kurdish villages in northern Iraq were destroyed, and as many as 200,000 Kurds were killed. The Iraqi government used chemical weapons against Kurdish soldiers and civilians alike, causing an international uproar. A March 1988 poison gas attack in Halabja, Iraq, killed an estimated 5,000 Kurds.

After the failed rebellion, well over one million Kurds attempted to flee northward into Turkey and Iran. The Iranians accepted some of the fleeing people. The Turks, no friends of the Kurds, refused entry. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Kurdish men, women and children were left stranded in the mountains, starving, ill-prepared for the winter, and at the mercy of Iraqi forces. The temperatures were below freezing each night and the Kurds were dying by the hundreds due to lack of food, water, medicines, shelter, and blankets.

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President and Mrs. George Bush Visit US troops during the Gulf War

On 6 April 1991, President George Bush ordered that a Joint Task Force (JTF) be assigned the mission of protecting the Kurds of northern Iraq. Bush stated the political objectives of Operation Provide Comfort:

This is an interim measure designed to meet an immediate, penetrating humanitarian need. Our long-term objective remains the same for Iraqi Kurds, and indeed, for all Iraqi refugees, wherever they are, to return home and to live in peace, free from oppression, free to live their lives.

The operation would be called "Provide Comfort." Fighter aircraft would patrol the skies above the 36th parallel, and humanitarian supplies would be delivered. A de-militarized zone would be established where Coalition forces would deploy to help feed the Kurds. The homeless people would be taught modern techniques, cleanliness, sanitation, and landmine safety. Most of all, they would live in peace without fear of attack. Joint Task Force Provide Comfort was first deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, to conduct humanitarian operations in northern Iraq. With the addition of British and French support, the JTF was re-designated a Combined Task Force (CTF). The task force dropped its first supplies to Kurdish refugees on 7 April. Eventually, a coalition of 13 nations took part in the CTF with material contributions from 30 countries. In addition, the 10th Special Forces Group deployed to Silopi, Turkey, designated as "JTF Alpha."

A Blank Joint Task Force Bravo Certificate of Achievement
These were often printed by PSYOP Units for the supported Combat Units to award their personnel

The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the Battalion A of the 325th Airborne Infantry was deployed to Zahku, Iraq, and designated "JTF Bravo," with the assignment of facilitating the return of the Kurds to their homes. They were to construct a series of resettlement camps where dislocated civilians could find food and shelter and a secure environment. The combined task force consisted of the three mentioned above and a Combined Air Task Force, a Civil Affairs Brigade, the Combined Support Command and the U. S. Navy Task Forces 60 and 61 under Sixth Fleet control. Another operation, "Encourage Hope" was designed to integrate civilian relief agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) into the support, organization, and administration of the camps.

Operation Provide Comfort flew over 40,000 sorties, relocated over 7000,000 refugees, restored over 70 percent villages destroyed in northern Iraq, and delivered more than 17,000 tons of supplies. Operation Provide Comfort I ended on 24 July 1991. It was followed that same day by Operation Provide Comfort II which was aimed at deterring Iraqi attacks on the Kurds. US fighters patrolled the skies over northern Iraq enforcing the no-fly zone. The USAF flew more than 42,000 sorties while the entire task force flew nearly 20,000 additional sorties by the time that operation ended 31 December 1996. This operation was followed by Northern Watch.

The United States Special Operations Forces Posture Statement 1993 discusses a little about what the PSYOP element did in Operation Provide Comfort:

PSYOP units supported efforts to end the chaotic conditions in the mountain camps. Units from the 4th PSYOP Group were redeployed to Turkey to provide mass communications support. They produced more than 3.3 million leaflets, developed numerous loudspeaker preparations, and produced a videotape to prepare the refugees for follow-on relief efforts. PSYOP efforts helped convince the Kurds to return home.

We would be remiss if we failed to mention that the U. S. military was also very interested in training and arming the Kurds. There was a large population in a strategic location that could be used against Saddam at will if they could be brought under friendly control and turned into a modern fighting force. There were already numerous patriotic bands of freedom fighters. They only needed leadership and guidance. The government never took advantage of this opportunity. Douglas C. Waller mentions this in The Commandos; The inside Story of America’s Secret Soldiers, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1994. He says:

Postwar pictures of freezing and starving Kurds fleeing Saddam’s army in the northern mountains of Iraq eventually became too much for the White House. A little more than a month after the cease-fire, General Potter and about 2,800 special operations soldiers joined Marines to establish an enclave in northern Iraq to feed and protect the Kurds. Potter’s Green Berets also used Operation Provide Comfort as a cover to begin secretly organizing and training the Kurdish guerrillas. The Green Berets, however, were under tight reins. Special Forces teams were allowed to teach Kurdish guerrillas "soft subjects," such as surviving in the field and setting up medical aid stations. But they were barred by the White House from arming the Kurds or teaching them offensive tactics, such as ambushes and raids. The White House had promised the Turks that provide Comfort would not increase the threat to them from the Kurds.

General Potter is mentioned again in Gordon D. Rudd’s Humanitarian Intervention – Assisting the Iraqi Kurds in Operation Provide Comfort 1991: Department of the Army, Washington, D.C., 2004. It says in part:

The telephone woke General Potter at two o’clock in the morning on Saturday, 6 April 1991…Potter and the battalion (1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group) had just returned from Turkey. The alert notice indicated that they were going back…USAF General Jamison was appointed commander of the humanitarian effort Provide Comfort, with General Potter as his supporting commander.

In an Air Force C–20 Gulfstream, a small passenger aircraft, General Jamison flew from Ramstein to Stuttgart on the evening of 6 April to pick up General Potter and then continued on to Incirlik Air Base, arriving early on Sunday. With no prior planning PROVIDE COMFORT was under way, its first days focused on the airdrops of relief supplies to stem the crisis in Turkey.

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Kurdish freedom fighters

It is interesting to note that during the Iraqi invasion of 2003, the Kurd freedom fighters were given some military responsibilities in the northern part of Iraq and around the Kirkuk oil fields. One wonders if that old friendship between the American Special Forces and the Kurds during the 1991 relief operation finally paid dividends. A decade later the Kurds would again help the United States armed forces by taking on a major part of the Global War of Terror fight against the ISIS movement.


There are some problems when we speak of the psychological operations products of Provide Comfort. These are not the usual problems. In many of our research articles we know very little about the operations and many of the more interesting aspects are classified.

Support for Operation PROVIDE COMFORT

This booklet was produced by the 4th PSYOP Group and depicted some of the propaganda leaflets used during Operation Provide Support. There may be an error on the cover of this booklet. Just below Turkey in red, a small island is depicted. I was told, though I have not seen a copy of the later version that:

That booklet on PSYOP Support for Operation Provide Comfort caused some discomfort in NATO. When copies were passed around NATO HQ, the Greeks pointed out that the red island below Turkey on the cover was Cyprus, which was an independent country and not part of Turkey. They were not happy. If I recall correctly, copies were recalled and the cover redone, without Cyprus.

In the case of Provide Comfort the problem is just the opposite. We have so much data on the operation that we could easily do a major 10,000-word article on this one campaign. The best reference is the 1994 24-page booklet published by the 4th PSYOP Group entitled Psychological Operations Support for Operation Provide Comfort. Another excellent source is the Stanley Sandler book, Cease Resistance: It's Good for You: A history of U. S. Army Combat Psychological Operations. The Sandler book has a full chapter on the subject. There is also a chapter in the Richard Johnson book Seeds of Victory. So, we are overwhelmed with data and need to pick and choose carefully to keep the story balanced and to the point.

A second problem is that although we know just about every leaflet that was prepared during Operation Provide Comfort, the majority of them are plain text on white paper. This certainly does not make for interesting illustrations. It is also inefficient and space-consuming to translate 40 long propaganda texts. Therefore, we will write this article on the basis of the leaflet themes. We will then depict one or two leaflets that fall into each theme. The reader should understand that we are just discussing a very limited number of carefully selected items, though we will attempt to cover all of the major missions.

The themes are those mentioned in the 4th Group booklet. They are; Introduction of Coalition forces, safety, aid distribution, health and sanitation, medical care, mine awareness, safe passage home, safe conduct passes, and command information.

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Private First Class James LaSpino, 6th PSYOP Battalion, talks with
children in a Kurdish refugee Camp during Operation Provide Comfort.

First, a brief history of the PSYOP campaign. Elements of the 6th Psychological Operations Battalion (6 POB) deployed to Incirlik AFB at the start of the campaign. A Psychological Operations Task Force (POTF) was formed to support the Combined Task Force. It consisted of 31 officers and soldiers. The POTF was broken up into a command and control element, a propaganda development center, a liaison cell, and loudspeaker teams. The POTF provided planning support and both printed and audio products to assist in the humanitarian relief effort. They produced leaflets, posters and broadcasts to tell about where food was available, what was in the Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), and explain the danger of land mines and how to avoid them. They also produced language cards containing key phrases in the local languages to assist JTF soldiers in communicating with refugees and local officials. At the height of the operation the POTF expanded to 78 officers and soldiers.

Rudd mentions the PSYOP and Civil Affairs teams assigned to Provide Comfort:

In its final form the Civil Affairs Command staff consisted of personnel from the headquarters of General Campbell’s 353rd Civil Affairs Command and Col. Robert H. Beahm’s 354th Civil Affairs Brigade. The working units assigned to the operation were the Army Reserve 418th, 431st, and 432nd Civil Affairs Companies, which had recently served in the Persian Gulf and a detachment from the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion. The Civil Affairs strength, at its peak, reached four hundred forty-seven soldiers. Ten Marine reservists from the 4th Civil Affairs Group augmented the effort. Company A, 6th Psychological Operations Battalion, an active-duty unit from Fort Bragg, worked closely with these units, PSYOP strength never exceeding fifty personnel.

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PSYOP Loudspeaker Humvee

Sandler mentions the loudspeaker teams:

The tactical loudspeaker teams used their regional expertise and cultural awareness to disseminate information, control crowds and broadcast warnings to keep children away from the road, which were heavy with relief and refugee traffic. Loudspeaker teams drew unexpected duty in running "kiddie patrols," roving loudspeaker teams that drew in refugee children, regaled them with songs and games – and kept them off the roads and streets as supply columns pounded by.

Johnson also discusses the loudspeaker teams:

In the initial days of those campaigns, loudspeaker missions instructed the Kurds where and how to receive food and assistance. Missions were also executed which instructed the starving refugees not to stand under the pallets that were being parachuted into the relief areas, and to take care around distribution aircraft that were landing.

More advanced loudspeaker mission provided the Kurds with travel instructions for relocation to any of the various tent cities which had been established to temporarily house them. Messages also provide refugees with instructions on how to approach the camps, and informed the refugees to stay upon the more established trails since Iraqi mines had been implanted within many of the region’s more remote quarters. Broadcasts also informed the Kurds that they were forbidden to bring their individual weapons into the refugee camps.

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General John M. Shalikashvili

General John M. Shalikashvili, Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote in 1994:

As an early commander of Combined Task Force Provide Comfort, it is my belief that much of the success achieved during Operation Provide Comfort can be attributed to the successful integration of psychological operations in support of the overall humanitarian assistance mission. Over five million PSYOP products were dispersed over Northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey in support of the Operation’s goals and objectives. PSYOP is a true force-multiplier.

The 4th PSYOP Group booklet says that there were three phases of PSYOP objectives. The main mission was to provide tactical psychological operations support to CTF Provide Comfort to dissuade hostile forces from interfering with Allied Forces and Non-Governmental Organizations conducting humanitarian operations in southern Turkey and northern Iraq.

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The U.S. and its allies saved countless Kurds by establishing safe havens and
providing humanitarian assistance. Special Operations Forces spearheaded this effort.

The Initial Phase was to prevent the Iraqi military from interfering in any way, to prevent Kurdish attacks on the airborne humanitarian operations, and to minimize confusion, chaos and panic.

The Transition Phase was to prepare the displaced Kurds for the introduction of troops, prevent the Partiya Karkere Kurdistan (PKK - Kurdish worker’s party) from interfering, and to influence the movement of the displaced Kurds.

The Sustainment Phase was to encourage the Kurds to return home, to convince the Iraqis to observe the UN resolutions on the protected zone, to assist the movement of the people and the control at way stations and food distribution centers, and to encourage Iraqis who lived within the protected zone not to interfere.

Sandler adds:

To carry out these objectives the Task Force had to get its message across to four audiences: the Kurds ("self reliance and cooperation will insure the survival and the comfort of all"), the Iraqi military ("Allied forces have the capability and will to protect humanitarian operations."), the Kurdish "freedom fighters" ("Attacks against humanitarian relief will be counterproductive to your cause.") and Iraqi civilians ("Humanitarian operations in northern Iraq are being conducted in accordance with the U.N. resolution, and are morally correct in the eyes of Allah.")


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Operation Provide Comfort Patches

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People of Iraq!

This dual-language text-only leaflet is signed by Lieutenant General John M. D. Shalikashvili as commander of the Combined Task Force. The leaflet is black and white and the message is written in English and Arabic. The text is:

People of Iraq!

Soldiers of the United States of America have arrived in Zakhu. Our soldiers, international forces and relief organizations are being sent to help your brothers who are suffering. We will be building temporary communities and providing food, water, and medical care. We are doing this in accordance with United Nations Resolution 688, and because it is right in the eyes of Allah.

Our soldiers will not harm you unless you attack them or the people they are protecting. Do not try to stop the humanitarian actions of the world; instead, join us in helping your brothers.


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Kurd Family in tent city

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My Friends

This black and white leaflet depicts a family of Kurds arriving at a tent marked with a red cross and a green crescent. The man of the family shakes hands with soldiers guarding the tent. There are baskets and bags of food on the ground. There is no text on the front. Text on the back in English, Kurdish and Arabic is:

My friends!

The time for violence is over. We must all find peace and harmony again. Guns will not be allowed inside the camp. If the international security forces at the checkpoints find a gun, you will not be allowed into the camp. In the name of Allah, seek peace in your heart; pray that Allah will give us compassion and forgiveness.

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Dear Friends

Another example of this theme is the black and white leaflet that depicts a peaceful tent-city with aid trucks and numerous Kurd refugees streaming in to live in their new protected sanctuary. There is no text on the front. The back is all text in English, Kurdish and Arabic:

Dear Friends, the multi-national forces are here to help you. Please follow these rules to receive assistance. Say off military convoy routes. Stay away from military installations. Seek medical aid, food and water only at way stations, temporary communities, and food distribution points. By following these rules we can help you better.

Stay away from the aircraft

When people are starving, they will do foolish things. During the Serbian attacks on Kosovo and Bosnia Two leaflets were prepared and dropped over Bosnia. They both depict a Hercules C-130 USAF cargo plane in front of a faint United States flag. Both leaflets picture crates falling by parachute marked with a bright red cross, and both are written in Serbo-Croat text, in Latin script on one side and Cyrillic on the other side. Th text on the first was:

American aircraft will be dropping humanitarian aid for all people.
Do not fire on American aircraft. Food and medical supplies are intended for all people.

On the second leaflet, the C-130 drops three containers labeled "500 KG." This leaflet was prepared because of accidents that occurred in Somalia. Starving people rushed mindlessly into the drop zone only to be crushed by falling food crates. The leaflet text is:

Danger! For everyone's safety, let humanitarian aid land before approaching.

Something similar happened with the Kurds. On occasion that would rush the aircraft trying to be first in line for food. There were some deaths from people being crushed or hit by propellers. Leaflets were prepared to try and control the Kurds when planes were landing. The text in Kurdish, Arabic, and Turcoman is:

To save your lives, stay away from the aircraft. There are supplies enough for everyone. 


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Disseminating food to Kurds

Jennifer Gabrys mentions the dropping of food to the Kurds in Airdrop, Book Works, London, 2004.

At the end of the Gulf War, thousands of Kurds were on the brink of starvation in northern Iraq and refugee camps in Turkey. The arrival of the first aircraft for "Operation Provide Comfort" was described as a "dramatic and emotional scene." 

She goes on to quote from K. Born's, Quartermaster Aerial Delivery; The Story of the Airborne Rigger: 

The noisy camp hushed when the sound of arriving aircraft was heard. At first most of the refugees rushed for cover, thinking the humming engines heralded a reappearance of Saddam's air force. However, when no bombs began falling, eyes focused upward and followed a lumbering C-130 as it slowly circled the camp. A roll of toilet paper thrown from the plane tested wind direction. Suddenly, a series of large objects dropped from the plane's tail section. The fearful Kurds were astounded when gigantic white parachutes blossomed and bundles of food floated to the earth.

A map distributed to help displaced citizens locate aid cities

This map was issued to the Kurds and showed such things as foot paths, roads, towns, way stations, and emergency helicopter landing zones.

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American Soldier Humanitarian Assistance Assessment Teams

This black and white all-text leaflet is written in English, Kurdish, Arabic and Turcoman. The message is:

American soldier humanitarian assistance assessment teams will be deployed along the Turkish/Iraqi border. These teams will determine the needs of displaced persons in this region and facilitate distribution of relief supplies.

The assessment teams will attempt to determine the most urgent needs of the people through out the region. Follow on assistance can be tailored to fit the requirements of the population based on the team’s findings.

These soldiers are armed for self-protection only. They are not armed for offensive purposes or in support of any armed faction in the region.

Attempts should not be made to locate these American soldiers. However, assistance should be rendered if they request it.

When the American soldiers approach, English speakers and medical personnel among the population should make themselves known to the Americans.

Safe Conduct Pass

In every war the safe conduct pass is prepared so that the enemy forces and friendly civilians can pass through the lines without being harmed. The WWII safe conduct pass prepared for the Germans and Japanese is given credit for helping the Allies win the war. In Korea there three different passes as the commanders changed. In Vietnam there was an official safe conduct pass showing first one, then five, and finally seven flags of the Allied nations taking part in the military actions to protect the Republic of Vietnam.

The safe conduct pass above was given to displaced civilians so they could safely return home. There were Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran, and they all hoped at some future time to have a land called Kurdistan. This pass was one of the most effective products and many refugees would not leave their camps until they had one in their possession. This pass bore two languages on the front and one on the back.

Camp Rules

Posters were prepared to organize the refugees into camps and prepare the United Nations and Private agencies to take over. This poster defines the rules of the temporary communities. Weapons control was a major rule.

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Baby Food

It was not enough, just to give aid. Sometimes what the aid was and how it was to be used had to be explained. This bright pink leaflet depicts an infant with a bottle. It was dropped with bundles of food to explain to the Kurds in English, Kurdish, Arabic, and Turcoman that the package contained baby food. The leaflet is also found in blue.

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Food identification

Since the Kurds were not familiar with American foodstuffs, it was necessary to explain what the various foods were. This leaflet depicts two children eating at a small table and gives the name of each type of food in English, Kurdish, Arabic and Turcoman on the front. The back of the leaflet is entitled "Meals Ready To Eat Instructions" and explains in each language how the food item is to be prepared.

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Explanation of Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) Contents

It is hard to understand why these instructions were placed on such a dark paper. They must have been hard to read by the Kurds. This is another version of the leaflet above. They were actually printed in 7 different colors such as blue, orange and pink with some changes in text as the foods changed. One can only assume the color was picked to make the leaflet easy to see on the ground in the countryside. The leaflet is printed on a heavy cardboard so it was made sturdy to last. The text is in Kurdish, Arabic, and Turkoman and there are a limited number of English words on the front and back. Some of the text is:

These are instructions for how to use the prepared foods that are inside the cans that the airplanes drop.

The drinks – Mix the powders in 3 cups of water and then you will have lemonade or grape drink or coffee or cocoa.

Fruits – The fruits that are in the cans can be eaten by soaking them in cold water or you can eat them dry.

Other foods – The other food cans that are not drinks or fruit are ready to eat. They can be heated by putting them in hot water before opening the cans.

All of you are hungry and tired so distribute the food cans in a fair manner to everyone.

The back of the leaflet identifies each food item. Some of the items are:

Apples, pears, peaches, jelly, rice, omelet, noodles, potatoes, sugar, salt…

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Food Rationing

To help control the distribution of the food, ration cards were printed in red, white, and blue. The English, Kurdish and Arabic language cards explain on one side that:

Food will be distributed ONE time each week. Bring this card with you each week to receive your FOOD RATIONS.

Back of the white version of the Ration Card

The back of the card has boxes for remarks or punches, and lines for name, village, number in family, and registration number.


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Kurd family take advantage of fresh water station

This leaflet was used to access the initial medical needs of the Kurds

Insects and Animals Spread Disease

Living in a tent city calls for very strict rules of sanitation. The Kurds were presented with several leaflets telling them how to keep their area clean and healthy. This black and white leaflet depicts an adult male digging a waste sump to bury his family’s feces. The text is:

Insects and animals spread disease!

These insects and animals live in garbage, animal remains and human feces.

Rain will wash feces downhill. Those who drink water mixed with these feces become ill.

Dispose of all waste by digging a hole and burying it.

Take your garbage to a garbage collection point.



The military did not want to be interfered with by crowds of hungry Kurds so tells them to stay away from military bases and convoy routes. This also prevent accidents should some American convoy think it is being raided or attacked and opens fire. The leaflet reminds them that food and water can be found at aid stations along the route.


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Stop! Don’t Touch these Things.

A standard mine warning leaflet was prepared for the Kurds that is almost identical to the type prepared just months earlier during Operation Desert Storm. The earlier leaflets had some bright red color to catch the eye of the finder. The provide Comfort leaflets are in black and white, depict nine different explosives, and have text in English,

Kurdish and Arabic:

Stop! Don’t touch these things. Call the authorities.

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A second black and white leaflet depicts a group of Kurds coming down from the mountains by walking on a path. One adult male has wandered off the path and is shown being blown up by a landmine that he stepped on. The text is in English, Kurdish and Arabic:

Danger – Mines – stay on the main roads.


This small leaflet depicts a skull and crossed bones and an explosion. The text is:



Stay away from this area


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Danger – mines may be located off the road.

Another larger leaflet is printed on blue paper and depicts the same text and vignette on the front (in Arabic at the left and Kurdish at the right). The back is a map showing the Kurds the roads that lead to safety and where they can find gas, water, food or medical care. Besides the identification of the villages and supply points, there is one sentence of text at the bottom:

Danger – mines may be located off the road.


CTF Provide Comfort Language Card – Minefields

Among the pointee-talkie cards provided to the troops to help with questioning the refugees is this CTF Provide Comfort Language Card – Minefields. The card is printed on yellow card stock in English, Kurdish and Arabic. Some of the questions are:

Have you seen any evidence of minefields?

Can you show us where they are?

Did you see any evidence of poison gas?

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Three different general pointee-talkie language cards were prepared for Operation Provide Comfort. They are all printed on card stock and in orange, yellow and white. Each has a different set of useful questions, comments, or numbers.

A phonetic language card with key Kurdish and Turkish phrases was distributed to Multinational Forces to assist them in accomplishing their missions.


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Dear Friends – Turkish

A number of small cards and leaflets were prepared to help task force troops when dealing with the local population. The card above was used by American troops working near the border that might come into contact with Turkish border police or army units. The cards exist in both yellow and green. They explain why the person is in the area and shows that he is not a threat:

Dear Friend:

I am a member of the U. S. Humanitarian Service Support detachment.

Please do not hinder.

Allow me to cross the border.

Provide necessary aid.

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Dear Friends – Kurdish

The regular and Special Forces troops also came into contact with Armed Kurdish freedom fighters. It was imperative that they understood that the Americans were there to help. The blue card above has English and Turkish text on one side, and the following Kurdish text on the back:

Dear Friend:

Please take me to a telephone.

I must call the combined operations center.

We are helping bring food and water to starving displaced persons.

According to Steve Robinson, the PSYOP troops also printed a card that guaranteed that the United States would support the Kurdish people against Saddam Hussein if the Iraqi dictator attacked them upon return to their villages and ancestral lands. Steve says:

I was on radio watch the night this request was transmitted to higher headquarters. A “guarantee card” was produced and given to the tribal leaders. The Kurds in the mountains had refused to get on the transport trucks without such a guarantee. We had buses, trucks, carts and gas tankers read to transport them but they would not move until they got this card.  Later on, we left the Kurds to their own devices and Saddam did attack them just as he had done in the past. The only protection they got was from Iraqi aircraft that might wander into the no-fly zone.

An Aid Card for American Troops in Turkey

This card was given to American troops in Turkey during Operation Provide Comfort in case they were involved in an accident. I have the same card for American troops involved in an accident in Saudi Arabia. The card can be handed to passers-by and asks them to call for help using the phone numbers provided. The back has a message in the local tongue.

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An Instructional Leaflet on American Customs for the Kurds

Years after this article was written I heard from a young man who we shall call Nazar Y., one of the Kurds rescued during Operation Quick Transit in 1996. He was one of those 2,000 people of the first group to leave northern Iraq at that time. Combined Task Provide Comfort assisted the US Department of State in evacuating pro-US Kurds from northern Iraq. The task force brought the Kurds to Incirlik AB where the refugees boarded airliners destined for Guam. A total of 2,106 pro-US Kurds were evacuated from northern Iraq to Guam (nicknamed Pacific Haven, also called Quick Transit I) between 15 and 18 September 1996. Quick Transit II evacuated of 601 additional pro-US Kurds from northern Iraq on 21 and 22 October 1996. Quick Transit III evacuated 3,783 additional pro-US Kurds from northern Iraq between 4 and 16 December 1996. The last Quick Transit mission signaled the end of the humanitarian effort in Iraq. He told me:

Your article brought back many memories to me. I remember after spending 2 to 3 days in a tent camp in Turkey near the Iraqi border. They put us on buses early one morning heading to an unknown location. I remember some Turkish guards telling us we are heading to an airport. Later that day when we arrived to what looked to me a military building. We stayed at that place for about 2 to 3 hours and after it got dark and around 9 or 10 p.m. we got on a Tower Airlines 747 and flew to Guam.

I asked him if he had ever seen any of the leaflets prepared to help his people return home safely. He told me:

I do remember reading some of the leaflets. They helped me to understand what was going on around me since I was in a severe cultural shock at that time. I still have a rather large leaflet that explained how and why the Americans displayed respect when their National Anthem was played each morning and evening. The other side of the leaflet contained the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner. Another thing that helped me was some of the seminars that were held for us, especially the one about what to expect when we arrived on the mainland and how the monetary and banking system works in the United States.


This ends our look at the PSYOP of Operation Provide Comfort. We could have shown another 30 leaflets, but the majority of them are plain text and of little interest. What is important is that this relief operation was a great success and it has been called one of the most successful humanitarian operations in history. Count Galeazzo Ciano once said "Victory finds a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan." That seems to be true in the case of this operation. Many people have claimed credit for the rescue of the Kurds. Dr. Philip M. Taylor in his book Munitions of the Mind, A History of Propaganda from the Ancient World to the Present Day, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1995, notes that British Prime Minister John Major, after seeing pictures of the plight of the Kurds in Northern Iraq after the Gulf War, said he had been sufficiently moved by them to press the Americans to initiate the relief mission Provide Comfort.


Operation Pacific Haven

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Army Specialist Brandon Files interviews a Kurdish
woman as he creates identification cards for her.

Long after Operation Provide Comfort and before the American invasion of Iraq as Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Kurds continued to be persecuted and killed by Saddam Hussein and his regime. In October 1995, the United Nations assumed responsibility for the humanitarian care and protection of the 3.2 million Kurds in northern Iraq. During August 1996, 40,000 Iraqi soldiers with Kurd collaborators seized the city of Irbil, site of the new Kurdish Parliament and headquarters of the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress. Fearful that faithful allies and former employees would be captured and killed the Department of State received presidential approval for a voluntary evacuation. We will only discuss the PSYOP aspects of the humanitarian operation. For those who wish to know more about this operation, see “A Second Chance: Operation Pacific Haven,” Robert W, Jones Jr., Veritas, Volume 4, Number 3, 2008.

The Kurds were first taken to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey as part of Operation Quick Transit. Operation Pacific Haven quickly followed in September 1996 when about 7,000 Kurds were flown to Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam where preparations were made for their legal emigration into the United States. A military Information Support Team (MIST) made up of members of the 8th PSYOP Battalion, civilian analysts and specialists was deployed to Guam to support the Joint Task Force with PSYOP information products along with members of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion.

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English language Version of Garbage Disposal Handbill

Local communities on Guam donated clothes and other items values at about $650,000 and the Navy sent a Muslim Chaplain and two mosques were built for religious services. The U.S. government spent over $10 million in the local communities to support the operation. As soon as the MIST arrived on Guam they began printing various information leaflets and posters to reduce culture shock and provide a smooth assimilation into U.S. society. One-page handbills well used to pass information quickly to the refugees. The early leaflets contained simple instructions like how to use an electric stove or how to use a garbage disposal unit. All of the images on the leaflets were taken directly from computer graphic programs. In October, an “English as a second language” class was formed by the MIST.

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English language Version of Refrigerator Handbill

The text on some of the informational leaflets to the Kurds includes:

When operating garbage disposal keep hands clear while in use. Keep foreign objects such as metal utensils out…

Attention – Electrical power outages are common here in Guam. To extend the life of perishable food in your refrigerator and freezer limit the number of time you open the door during power outage periods…

Some of your friends will be departing soon to the United States. Due to safety reasons, all residents are restricted to the sidewalks and will not surround the bus while it is parked…

By 16 April 1967 the Kurds were all moved to the United States and were successfully integrated. Several repaid their debt and worked in northern Iraq as interpreters during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Joint Task Force Pacific Haven received a Joint Meritorious Unit Award at the end of the operation.

As always, the author encourages readers with questions or comments to write to him at sgmbert@hotmail.com.

© 5 August 2004