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Backgrounder / April 3, 1997 / Project number: BG-97.017


After Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the United Nations (UN) approved a series of 12 UN Security Council Resolutions. Between August 2, 1990, and November 29, 1990, the resolutions guided "like-minded nations" to unite in a coalition to exercise their influence over Iraq.

With UN Security Council Resolution 678, the last of the 12, the UN authorized the coalition countries to take all appropriate actions, including military force, to push Iraq out of Kuwait.

Sponsored by the UN, the United States and Saudi Arabia took the lead to orchestrate the actions of the coalition countries involved in military operations. Canada was one of 35 nations involved in the effort.

Canada’s role

During Canada’s Operation FRICTION, about 4,000 service personnel participated in the intervention, with a peak of 2,700 personnel at one time in the Persian Gulf region. These service men and women were primarily attached to four Canadian units in the Gulf: the Canadian Task Group at sea; the Canadian Air Task Group in Doha, Quatar; the joint Headquarters, Canadian Forces Middle East, in Manamah, Bahrain; and First Canadian Field Hospital at Al-Qaysumah.

Joint headquarters

The headquarters of the Canadian Forces in the Middle East was a joint headquarters established on November 6, 1990, and commanded by Commodore Kenneth J. Summers. It included a communications unit and various joint military staffs.

Naval operations

Before the war began on January 16, 1991, Canada’s naval forces patrolled the central Persian Gulf. When hostilities commenced, Captain Duncan "Dusty" Miller, Commander of the Canadian Naval Task Group, became the multinational co-ordinator for a large naval combat logistics area established in the southern Persian Gulf.

HMCS Terra Nova and HMCS Athabaskan escorted the United States hospital ships, USHS Comfort and USHS Mercy, the latter with Canadian medical staff on board. HMCS Protecteur, an armed oiler-replenisher, serviced all nations involved in naval operations within the Gulf. Five Sea King helicopters were also attached to the Naval Task Group, performing reconnaissance, utility, and command-and-liaison tasks.

Air operations

Canada’s most widely reported role was in the air, as the Canadian Forces provided combat air patrols in the north and central Gulf. These patrols worked with the United States naval air force to protect the Canadian and coalition Persian-Gulf fleet from Iraqi air attacks.

As the conflict progressed, the Canadian Air Task Group took on other combat roles, such as sweep and escort for coalition bombing missions and later, air-to-ground bombing missions. Canadian airmen were credited for partially destroying an Iraqi patrol boat in the Persian Gulf, and completed 56 CF-18 bombing sorties against Iraqi forces.

1 Canadian Field Hospital

On January 16, 1991, Canada announced that it would send a field hospital to the Gulf. As a result, 1 Canadian Field Hospital from Petawawa, Ontario, joined the British land forces and was deployed in the Saudi Arabian desert behind 1 (UK) Armoured Division. The hospital became fully operational on February 25, 1991, only a few days before the hostilities ceased; it stopped operating on March 4, 1991.

Air-transport operations

Canadian Forces in the Gulf were supported by Air Command’s Transport Group, providing personnel and cargo transport using a fleet of 27 CC-130 Hercules and five CC-137 Boeing 707, one of which was used in the Gulf as an air-to-air refueler for coalition air forces. The Transport Group also provided a CC-144 Challenger in a command-and-liaison role for the deployed Commander of the Canadian Forces.

Canada’s post-war interventions


Canadian Forces were sent to Saudi Arabia after the war to take up peacekeeping roles with the UN Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM). A field engineer unit and various staffs were sent to a new buffer zone between the two countries, providing primarily construction and mine clearing services. Canada’s involvement diminished progressively over the next two years, to its current level of providing individual military observers.

Sanctions enforcement

After the war, Canada provided a number of naval units to patrol the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and Persian Gulf areas. These included HMCS Huron and HMCS Restigouche, deployed successively in 1991 and 1992. A Canadian frigate, HMCS Regina, is currently on patrol in the Gulf.

Through the UN, Canada has also participated in various diplomatic and economic sanctions imposed against Iraq over the last five years. No direct military action by Canada against Iraq was required in these instances.


Canada sent forces to the Persian Gulf region in 1990-1991 to support the UN in its Security Council resolutions to liberate Kuwait. Within the overall military operation, Canadians provided detachments of air, navy, and land forces. There were no Canadian casualties attributable to combat or military action during the war.

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