Iraq: Rescue operation on hold after refugees escape
The US says thousands have been evacuated and those remaining are in 'relatively good condition'
The US says it is “far less likely” to undertake a humanitarian mission to rescue refugees trapped on Iraq’s Mount Sinjar because there are thousands fewer there than estimated previously, and those who remain are in a better state than expected.
A team of US military personnel in charge of assessing the situation report that several thousand refuges, many of them members of the Yazidi sect, are on the mountain and that they appear to be in relatively good condition, the Pentagon said in a statement.
The UN had estimated tens of thousands were trapped on the mountain last week. Thousands are believed to have evacuated the area mountain over the past few days. The US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said air drops of food and water are helping to sustain those on the mountain and air strikes are pushing back militants and allowing refugees to leave.
"As a result of that assessment, I think it's most likely far less likely now that we would undertake any kind of specific humanitarian rescue mission that we have been planning," said Mr Hagel. "That doesn't mean that we won't."
The announcement comes as the United Nations declared its highest level of emergency for the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. On Wednesday, David Cameron said "detailed plans" for an international humanitarian mission are being made to rescue those trapped, which Britain would "play a role in".
The Pentagon said US troops and US Agency for International Development staff conducted the assessment on Sinjar. The US will continue to provide aid and assistance, it added.
"The Yazidis who remain are in better condition than previously believed and continue to have access to the food and water that we have dropped," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said.
"Based on this assessment the interagency has determined that an evacuation mission is far less likely. Additionally, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance as needed and will protect US personnel and facilities."
Militant fighters from the Islamic State (Isis) have been rapidly advancing across northern Iraq, leaving thousands of people from minority Christian and Yazidi communities displaced after being issued convert, pay a tax or die ultimatums. About 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced by the crisis, according to UN estimates.
The US has conducted seven air drops of essential supplies to those fleeing attacks and has conducted air strikes on Isis targets. Three RAF missions involving the dropping of essential supplies to the refugees have also taken place