The Obama administration is considering taking its strongest action yet in Iraq, including a possible military response, in a reversal of the White House’s current approach to the ongoing crisis there. Administrative officials told the New York Times on Thursday that the president is weighing several options that include airdropping humanitarian supplies to Iraqis trapped without food and water to targeting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria with airstrikes.
“There could be a humanitarian catastrophe there,” an administration official told the New York Times. The official said action could be “a fast-moving train” and involve passive or active involvement -- passive being providing humanitarian aid to the tens of thousands of Iraqis stranded on a mountaintop without supplies and active being an offensive mission against the militant group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the official explained.
The attacks by IS on religious minorities in Iraq “have exacerbated an already dire crisis,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Thursday. Earnest did not specify exactly what action President Barack Obama has planned, but reiterated that U.S. combat troops would not be deployed.
The White House has delayed military intervention in the Iraq crisis, which began in mid-June, but the circumstances on Mount Sinjar, where as many as 40,000 people are trapped without food or water and are dying from heat and dehydration, may push the administration to act.
The White House sent some 750 American troops into Iraq in June and July to serve as military advisers to the Kurdish region and to provide security for the embassy and the airport. A U.S. defense official insisted the move was “not about [preparations] toward air strikes;” the Pentagon also deployed a small number of helicopters and drone aircraft to Iraq.
Kurdish forces in northern Iraq have faced ongoing attacks by IS over the past weeks, and are running low on supplies. Masrour Barzani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s intelligence and security chief, petitioned the White House in an interview last month for military support to push back IS militants, but the request was not immediately answered.