Monday, January 29, 2018

Operation Grand Desert: The Republic of China Air Force’s peacekeeping mission in North Yemen

(Arm patch of those taking part in the Operation Grand Desert. It is a combination of the military emblems of the Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen with "Tiger II in Sanaa" underneath. )

From 1979 to 1990, the Republic of China Air Force, upon the request of Saudi Arabia, conducted a 12-year long covert mission, code-named Operation Grand Desert, to aid the air defense for North Yemen on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. The mission was so secret that it had not been known until recent years.

Years of turmoil led to the start of Operation Grand Desert.

Yemen, called “the Garden of Eden” in the Old Testament, was a rich and fruitful land with moderate climate. Even in the times of Arabian empire, it was still an “Empirical Paradise.” However, political and religious clashes never seemed to cease even at the end of World War II. In 1962, the Yemen Arab Republic, also known as North Yemen or Yemen, was established; South Yemen was still a British colony. Inevitably, a civil war between pro-British and pro-Russian factions broke out. In 1967, the pro-Russian People’s Liberation Front finally prevailed and set up the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in 1967, commonly known as South Yemen.

Worried that South Yemen might export revolution across its border, South Arabia promised to aid North Yemen including providing US-made F-5E fighters for its air defense. Nevertheless, the pretty much Sovietized North Yemen had opinions about Saudi Arabia’s support for old Yemeni royal family and did not allow Saudi Arabia personnel to enter its country. Saudi Arabia then turned to the Republic of China Air Force to seek help since both air forces flew F-5Es. And that help lasted for 12 years. 

According to those who were involved in the Operation Grand Desert, our men joined North Yemen Air Force’s 112th Squadron and were mainly responsible for instruction, guidance, and assistance to missions. Normally, our people were not directly engaged in combat. Even so, as hostilities in South Yemen increased, our pilots were constantly found themselves locked on by enemy radars even during training flights.

May 1990, the two Yemens reached an agreement to unify. On August 2, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The Middle East situation grew intense, so our crew left and ended this historic mission.

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