“The invasion of Kuwait started on 1 August 1990, and within two days of intense combat, most of the Kuwait Armed Forces were either overrun by the Iraqi Republican Guard or fell back to neighboring Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The Emirate of Kuwait was annexed, and Saddam Hussein announced a few days later that it was the 19th province of Iraq. More than 170,000 Indians were stranded on Kuwait soil.” from “wiki".
1. Why the evacuation?
During the Gulf war in 1990, when Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait, the Iraqis took over the city in a few hours leaving the entire country in a state of terror. This included the fairly significant Indian community there as well. While the Kuwaiti royal family escaped to Saudi Arabia, the general population suffered great tragedies and loss. The responsibility came on the Indian government to safely evacuate the Indian community from Kuwait and hence, the largest air evacuation mission took shape.
2. What made it difficult?
Evacuating the Indian community from Kuwait was not an easy task. People were not ready to leave behind everything they had spent their entire lives earning in Kuwait. They underestimated the gravity of the situation and were reluctant to leave their well-settled lives.
Also, many people living there did not have valid travel papers as they had handed them over to their employers who were either missing or dead.
Also, Indian people took shelter in various schools and other buildings in various parts of Amman. They had to travel from various places to the Amman airport. It could not be predicted when these people would arrive and due to this, flights got delayed a lot. The crew had to stay on duty for a much longer time than the stipulated duty hours which created a lot of tiffs.
3. How did they do it?
Indian government officials went to Kuwait to meet Saddam Hussain and get him on board the arranged repatriation of Indian nationals.
As the help reached on August 14 (12 days after the invasion had taken place), Indian citizens were angry as they were expecting a quicker intervention by the Indian government. But, the then Foreign Minister I.K. Gujral quickly brought the crowd under control and in no time had them shouting “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.
Initially, a few military aircrafts were arranged to evacuate the elderly, women and children. But due to a lengthy air space clearance procedure, this did not seem like a feasible solution. So the government turned to Air India for assistance.
The Indian Air Force deployed its IL 76 aircraft for a steady communication link between Kuwait and Delhi government officials. The situation was severe and required immediate help and attention. The Kerala government came forward and dispatched food items for the Indian nationals in Kuwait.
There were far more people to be evacuated than expected. But, the coordination and team work of the people on the mission managed to evacuate all the Indian nationals out of the country. There was also a Pakistani Airline crew stranded in Kuwait and they wished to be evacuated by Indian aircrafts. On humanitarian grounds, the Indian officials agreed.
The successful operation that started on August 14 1990, continued for almost 2 months and created history, finally coming to an end on October 11.
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