The U.S. could send ground troops to assist in the massive effort to rescue thousands of minority Yazidi people trapped in Iraq's Sinjar mountain range after fleeing ISIS (Islamic State) militants, a senior White House official said today. A 130-member Pentagon team is currently in Iraq to evaluate the situation on the ground and will report to President Barack Obama on Tuesday. Obama had previously ruled out sending U.S. troops back into a combat role.
The U.S. began airstrikes Thursday to protect the estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Yazidi people at risk of being wiped out by ISIS. The Yazidi are an ethnically Kurdish minority group with an eclectic religious tradition rooted in ancient local religions and the Abrahamic religions. ISIS calls them devil worshippers. The radical Islamist militants have executed 500 Yazidi, including women and children, and buried some alive.
Last month, President Obama was fervent that troops would not return to combat, but said “[The U.S.] will help the Iraqi’s as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region and American interests as well." He did not explicitly rule out a ground rescue campaign.
Reports from the area depict a frantic rescue and relief effort mounted by Kurdish Peshmerga forces to save the people trapped on Sinjar in northwestern Iraq after being driven from their homes by ISIS militants. The people trapped face starvation, dehydration and the elements even as Kurdish forces mount their campaign.
“I’ve been doing this job for more than 10 years, I have never seen a situation as desperate as this, a situation as emotionally charged as this, and I’ve never seen a rescue effort as ad hoc and as improvised as this,” CNN reporter Ivan Watson said yesterday.
"They flew in shooting; they flew out shooting," Watson continued.
The Peshmerga, or Kurdish armed forces, have been fighting ISIS since their offensive in June, and are now being armed by the CIA after reporting they were low on ammunition and supplies. A Peshmerga helicopter carrying supplies, the only Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament and two journalists crashed yesterday, killing the pilot.
— TIME.com (@TIME) August 13, 2014
Fazel Mirany, the general secretary of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, has urged the international community to “Use your power through international law to save the Yazidi from genocide.”