Kuwaiti Invasion Refugees

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name:
Kuwaiti Invasion Refugees
September 18–28, 1990
Emergency: When Iraq invaded Kuwait, hundreds of thousands of foreign workers in the two nations fled to neutral Jordan for safety.
Organizations: 436th and 438th Military Airlift Wings
Airlifted: 107 pallets of tents, cots, and blankets; and 36 passengers.
Aircraft Used: C–5 (two) and C–141 (one)

On August 2, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein sent his army into Kuwait, a small oil-rich nation on Iraq’s southeastern border. Within two days, the invaders had control of Kuwait and began to mass on the border of Saudi Arabia. The UN condemned the invasion, and the United States, in an operation called Desert Shield, rushed military forces to Saudi Arabia to discourage further Iraqi aggression.

Fearing large-scale war, thousands of foreign workers from of Egypt, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the Philippines fled Kuwait and Iraq and made their way westward to Jordan. By September 6, over 600,000 had fled to Jordan. Most of the refugees were Egyptians, who quickly returned to their native country. But about 100,000 refugees remained in crowded camps in eastern Jordan, taxing that country’s ability to shelter and feed them.

Between September 18 and 28, the United States airlifted 107 pallets of relief supplies to refugees in Jordan, using aircraft and crews from MAC. One C–141 from the 438th Military Airlift Wing transported 11 pallets of tents, cots, and blankets to King Abdullah al-Hussein AB. The same aircraft carried 360 refugees to their homes in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.

Two C–5 Galaxies from the 436th Military Airlift Wing also participated in the Jordanian refugee relief operation, transporting 96 more pallets of relief supplies from the United States and Islamabad, Pakistan, to Shaheed Mawaffiq Assalti AB in Jordan. From there, trucks moved the cargo overland to the refugee camps.

George Dykes and Robert Wolthuis from the Department of Defense’s humanitarian assistance and global affairs offices praised the success of the refugee operation. The airlift relieved the suffering of some of the refugees and reinforced U.S.-Jordanian relations strained by the two countries’ divergent policies toward Iraq.

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