America may mount bid to rescue Yazidis
Published 14/08/2014 | 02:30
WASHINGTON is considering using American ground forces in an operation to save thousands of desperate civilians trapped on a mountain by Isis.
However they will not take part in combat, according to sources in the White House.
A team of 130 US military personnel is in the Kurdistan capital of Arbil, urgently 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 members of the Yazidi religious minority.
"These 130 personnel are not going to be in a combat role in Iraq," White House deputy spokesman Ben Rhodes told reporters travelling with US President Barack Obama, who is on vacation on Martha's Vineyard island in Massachusetts.
Mr Rhodes noted that Mr Obama had repeatedly ruled out "reintroducing US 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."
The tragic plight of the refugees has touched hearts all over the world.
Mr 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 the Yazidi towns when armed Islamic State convoys swept in, and have already helped many thousand escape to safe areas to the north.
Obama has been deeply reluctant to revive any military role in Iraq after withdrawing the last combat troops in 2011 to end eight years of costly war that eroded the US's reputation around the world.
The president agreed last Thursday to send back more than 700 troops to help advise and guide Iraqi and Kurdish forces after a devastating sweep across northwestern Iraq by the Sunni Islamic State radicals, who have declared a caliphate in much of the country.
US warplanes have since carried out a series of attacks on Islamic State forces, including on forces approaching Arbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and on roadblocks and artillery around Mount Sinjar to the west.
Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the air attacks, combined with operations by Kurdistan's Peshmerga armed forces, had "slowed, if not stopped" attacks on the terrified families who had fled to the mountain.
Rhodes said the team in Arbil would report proposals in a matter of days for rescuing those trapped without food and water on the rocky crags of the mountain, where temperatures reach over 40 Celsius.
"You look at corridors, you look at airlifts, you look at different ways to move people who are in a very dangerous place on that mountain to a safer position," he said.
"We obviously have not just US personnel who could potentially be engaged in that type of effort, we have Kurdish forces who are engaged in the area. We have international partners who also want to support the provision of humanitarian assistance," he said.
Last night Kurdish officials warned that unless the Peshmerga received heavy weaponry soon, they risked being unable to defend their territory and 1.2 million refugees, including minority Christians, seeking sanctuary from the jihadists' onslaught.
A spokesman said: "Islamic State have tanks, they have armoured vehicles, American-made Humvees: they have much more firepower in their possession.
"Unless we have similar or better firepower it will be difficult to defeat them."
"This is the front line to fight Islamic State on behalf of the world," he added.