Three Commando Brigade was deployed to northern Iraq as a temporary measure to help provide humanitarian assistance to Kurdish refugees and the necessary reassurance to persuade the Kurds that it would be safe for them to come down from the mountains and return home. I am pleased to say that, thanks to the efforts of all allied forces, the majority of refugees along the Turkey-Iraq border have now come down from the mountains and are returning to their homes.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the pride of my constituents, and my own pride as the son of a former Royal Marine, at the magnificent contribution made by the Royal Marines to this massive humanitarian effort. In my local newspaper, Lance Cpl. Bateman of 40 Commando reported on the Kurdish refugees' great appreciation of the marines. He said that the Kurds offered the marines hospitality, even if it meant offering the last of their food and drink. Could my right hon. Friend say—
There is no question but that we asked our commando brigade to undertake an incredibly difficult task. The brilliant way in which it discharged its duties is a measure of its confidence, training and absolute commitment. Others have played their part, but none was better than 3 Commando Brigade. I hope that the whole House shares my admiration for the way in which that brigade carried out an incredibly difficult job. Its efforts and those of others undoubtedly saved the lives of hundreds of thousands.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the decisive action by our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and his Department saved thousands of Kurds from certain death from appalling weather and the tyranny of Saddam Hussein? Will he pay tribute to the Royal Air Force and the Chinook pilots for their magnificent work? In adverse weather, they made sure that vital supplies were airlifted to the refugees on the mountain tops.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the Chinook and other RAF pilots who were engaged in the air drop. As I think that the House knows, some of those who volunteered had just returned from the Gulf and had barely a few days leave. They as much as anyone are responsible for saving a fantastic number of lives. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked for Operation Haven to be launched, and we owe a great debt to our pilots and the marine commandos and the other forces involved. It is thought that 15,000 Kurds died. That is tragic, but very many more could have died.
Now that the Iraqi Government have clearly breached resolution 688 by sending troops into the towns of Salumaniya, Dihok, Dahuk, Sahko and Arbil, and the repression of the population has begun once again, how is it possible for the British and American Governments to begin withdrawing troops when clearly the Kurds do not feel that they will be secure in future with only United Nations forces carrying side arms available for their protection?
The hon. Gentleman is making a challenge and condemning a Government who took the quite unprecedented step of making forces available to go to the relief of millions of people whose lives were in desperate jeopardy. We do not have to prove our credentials. We went there for humanitarian purposes and to save lives. We shall certainly be anxious to see that the benefits of what has been achieved are not lost.
I understand that, and that thought is very much in our minds. Having met the commandos concerned, I know that they understand and are proud of the contribution that they have been able to make. As soon as it is possible for them to come home, they will come home. They have had a very important job to do and they have done it outstandingly well.