The 12-year no-fly mission over northern Iraq that began just after the first Gulf War
has ended with Operation Iraqi Freedom, throwing into question the fate of the largest
U.S. military presence in Turkey.
The final Operation Northern Watch no-fly mission flew March 17, two days before the
war began on March 19, said Maj. Bob Thompson, ONW spokesman at Incirlik Air Base in
The end of the no-fly mission frees up a full wing of aircraft for possible strikes
against Iraq. They just wont attack from Turkey.
Aircraft and crews assigned to ONW are now leaving Incirlik, but Thompson declined to
discuss their destinations.
About 50 U.S. Air Force and British Royal Air Force aircraft and about 1,400 people
including pilots, maintainers and support personnel are either returning to home bases, or
are redeploying to support the war in Iraq, Thompson said.
People are dispersing fairly rapidly, he said. This is the, no
kidding, last act.
The end of the no-fly mission frees up F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air
Force Base in Virginia, F-16s from the Indiana National Guards 113th Fighter
Squadron from Terre Haute and from the 55th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.,
as well as Navy EA-6B electronic warfare planes, refuelers and AWAC planes.
Once the war began, the mission of protecting Kurds and other minorities in northern
Iraq ended, Thompson said. The Turkish government, which controls Incirlik, is allowing
U.S. aircraft to fly over Turkey, but refuses to allow the U.S. to launch offensive
missions from Turkish soil.
It will take time for the units including British Jaguar fighter-bombers and
refuelers, to be completely gone, Thompson said. This operation has been flying for
12 years, and its a big footprint. Its going to take time to get sorted out.
Some ONW officers and capabilities will stay at Incirlik under a new command
As the new Combined Air Forces North, the group will operate out of the former ONW
combined air operations center, or CAOC, to coordinate coalition overflights into northern
Iraq with the Turkish General Staff, which controls Incirlik.
What remains uncertain is how the end of ONW affects the perhaps 2,000 people assigned
to the 39th Wing, the large Air Force support wing. Officials with the U.S. Air Forces in
Europe officials did not respond to inquiries by Stripes deadline.
While the 39th Wing has no aircraft, it does service aircraft transiting to American
operations in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
The wing also has other responsibilities including wartime and contingency planning,
weapons storage, housing, a hospital, communications and training. It has 21 tenant units,
as well as separate operations in Izmir, Diyarbakir and other locations in Turkey.
ONW began in 1991 as Operation Provide Comfort, with British, U.S. and French planes
keeping Saddam Husseins aircraft from going north of the 36th Parallel and attacking
Kurdish refugees fleeing the Gulf War. The French soon withdrew, and the mission was
renamed Operation Northern Watch in 1997.