IRBIL, Iraq — The United States military has concluded that there are too few Yazidi refugees still trapped in the mountains of northern Iraq to warrant mounting a potentially risky rescue, the Pentagon said late Wednesday.
Military advisers who earlier in the day visited the Sinjar mountains, where as many as 30,000 people were thought to still be trapped, said that they found “far fewer” Yazidis than expected and that those who were there were in better condition than anticipated. Food and water dropped in recent days have reached those who remain, the Pentagon statement said.
“The team has assessed that there far fewer Yazidis on Mount Sinjar than previously feared, in part because of the success of the humanitarian air drops, airstrikes on ISIL targets, the efforts of the peshmerga and the ability of thousands of Yazidis to evacuate from the mountain each night over the last several days,” the statement said. “The Yazidis who remain are in better condition than previously believed and continue to have access to the food and water we have dropped.”
The statement concluded, “Based on this assessment, the interagency (sic) has determined that an evacuation mission is far less likely.”
It added, “We will continue to provide humanitarian assistance as needed and will protect U.S. personnel and facilities.”
The statement was an anticlimax after a daylong buildup that saw European countries offering resources to help rescue the Yazidis from the Islamic State, the al-Qaida-inspired quasi-state that now controls much of Iraq and Syria.
Obama administration officials earlier in the day had suggested a rescue mission was in the offing.
“We would be the first to acknowledge that’s not a permanent solution, just dropping food and water in perpetuity from the air,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters in Washington. Among options Rhodes said were under consideration was establishing protected corridors that would allow trapped members of the Yazidi minority to escape the mountain without facing Islamic State forces dedicated to their extermination. Rhodes said the possibility of airlifting some of the Yazidis was also being considered.
“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, and that’s exactly what our team is doing now on the ground now in Iraq,” Rhodes said.
The United States sent four V22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to Irbil, commonly used by the Marine Corps and special operations troops, and one made a dramatic appearance, firing off anti-missile flares as it descended into the airport here.
But the report from the U.S. military who visited suggested that a U.N. estimate Tuesday that as many as 20,000 to 30,000 Yazidis remained stranded was inaccurate.
The United States has dropped nearly 100,000 military meals-ready-to-eat and more than 27,000 gallons of water in seven air drops in the six days since Obama announced the mission. But those supplies have not been enough, and in recent days, Great Britain also began making aid deliveries. On Wednesday, Prime Minister David Cameron’s office announced that two British C-130s had dropped 23 tons of aid overnight, including 13,200 liters of water, almost 3,500 gallons, and “528 shelter kits to provide shade.”