Yazidi rescue mission not likely
The Pentagon says that because the humanitarian situation for the Yazidis on Mount SInjar is not as bad as previously believed, a rescue mission to get the refugees off the mountain is less likely.
The assessment team sent to Mount Sinjar to evaluate military options found far fewer Yazidis than they expected and their condition was improving.
"Based on this assessment," the Pentagon said, "an evacuation mission is far less likely."
The Pentagon credited the better-than-expected situation on air drops of food and water, U.S. airstrikes on Sunni militant targets, efforts of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and the ability of thousands of Yazidis to evacuate the mountain in recent nights.
The White House said earlier the United States had not ruled out using American ground forces in an operation to extract the trapped civilians, but added the troops would not engage in combat.
The team of fewer than 20 U.S. personnel flew in darkness early in the morning to Mount Sinjar, where thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority fled to escape an advance by Islamic State fighters, a U.S. official said. The team returned safely to the Kurdistan capital of Arbil by military air.
The United States has 130 U.S. military personnel in Arbil, drawing up options ranging from creating a safe corridor to an airlift to rescue those besieged on Mount Sinjar for over a week, most of them Yazidis.
"These 130 personnel are not going to be in a combat role in Iraq," White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama, who is on vacation on Martha's Vineyard island in Massachusetts.
Rhodes noted that Obama had repeatedly ruled out "reintroducing U.S. forces into combat on the ground in Iraq." But he added: "There are a variety of ways in which we can support the safe removal of those people from the mountain."
Rhodes said the intention was to work with Kurdish forces already operating in the region and with the Iraqi military.
Kurdish fighters had been guarding Yazidi towns when armed Islamic State convoys swept in, and have already helped many thousands escape to safe areas to the north.
In the last 24 hours, thousands of Yazidis have been able to escape because a combination of US air power and stout fighting by the Kurdish Peshmerga has lifted the seige of Mount Sinjar:
Defense Department officials said late Wednesday that United States airstrikes and Kurdish fighters had broken the Islamic militants’ siege of Mount Sinjar, allowing thousands of the Yazidis trapped there to escape.
An initial report from about a dozen Marines and Special Operations forces who arrived on Tuesday and spent 24 hours on the northern Iraqi mountain said that “the situation is much more manageable,” a senior Defense official said in an interview.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking to reporters Wednesday night at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., said it was “far less likely now” that the United States would undertake a rescue mission because the assessment team reported far fewer Yazidis on the mountain than expected, and that those still there were in relatively good condition.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, credited American airstrikes and humanitarian airdrops as well as efforts of the Kurdish pesh merga fighters in allowing “thousands of Yazidis to evacuate from the mountain each night over the last several days” and to escape the militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS is still a threat to the Kurds but they appear to be doing much better in recent days in pushing the enemy back. It certainly helps that ISIS does not possess F-18's to give close air support to their forces.
The Pentagon says they are launching about 100 sorties a day off carriers in the Med. and bases in the region. That's a lot of firepower raining down in ISIL, but it has only blunted their attack. They aren't going anywhere and the Kurds, along with the new government in Baghdad, should realize that by now.