U.S. says ‘far fewer’ refugees on Iraq’s Mt. Sinjar
There are “far fewer” Yazidi refugees stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq than previously thought and they are in better condition than expected, the Pentagon said Wednesday after the United Nations announced its highest level of emergency for the humanitarian crisis in the country.
“Based on this assessment, the interagency has determined that an evacuation mission is far less likely,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement after U.S. troops were flown onto the mountain to see the refugees’ plight firsthand.
The U.S. troops and U.S. Agency for International Development staff who conducted the assessment on Sinjar – fewer than 20 people overall – did not engage in combat operations and all returned safely to Irbil by military air, Kirby said.
Thousands of Yazidis on the mountain were able to leave each night over the last several days, Kirby added.
U.N. says crisis at highest level
Meanwhile, the United Nations has announced its highest level of emergency for the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
The U.N. refugee agency said tens of thousands of civilians, many of them members of the Yazidi minority, remain trapped on the mountain by jihadists from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has overrun large swaths of Iraq and Syria in a lightning and brutal offensive.
The Security Council also said Wednesday it was backing a newly nominated premier-designate in the hope that he can swiftly form an “inclusive government” that could counter the insurgent threat, which has plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since the U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011.
The U.N.’s declaration of a “Level 3 Emergency” will trigger additional goods, funds and assets to respond to the needs of the displaced, said U.N. special representative Nickolay Mladenov, who pointed to the “scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe.”
International plan under way
British Prime Minister David Cameron also said Wednesday that an international plan is under way to rescue civilians trapped by ISIS fighters on a mountain in northern Iraq.
But Cameron declined to give details of the operation but said Britain would play a role, just as it had worked alongside the United States in conducting humanitarian aid drops to thousands of Yazidis and other minorities who have fled to Mount Sinjar.
“Clearly there is an absolutely desperate situation in Iraq, particularly on this mountainside,” Agence France-Presse quoted Cameron as saying after chairing a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee.
“I’m proud of the fact that British aeroplanes and British aid have been playing a role and will continue to play a role to help these people.
“But we need a plan to get these people off that mountain and get them to a place of safety.
“I can confirm that detailed plans are now being put in place and are underway and that Britain will play a role in delivering them.”
British forces in Iraq?
British newspapers The Times and The Guardian reported that British special forces had arrived in Iraq ahead of the rescue mission, but a defense ministry spokesman would not comment on this.
Britain has sent Tornado fighter jets to Cyprus to be ready if needed to provide surveillance support for the aid effort, while two Chinook helicopters were also on standby to help with the humanitarian operation.
Australia’s first airdrop
Meanwhile, Australia has carried out its first airdrop to refugees in northern Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday, joining a growing international effort to deliver humanitarian assistance.
“The mission was conducted by a RAAF C-130J Hercules delivering 10 pallets of badly needed supplies to Yazidi civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar by encircling ISIS forces,” he said.
The cargo included 150 boxes of high energy biscuits and 340 boxes of bottled water — enough to sustain 3,700 people for 24 hours.
“Initial reports are that the drop was conducted successfully and the aircraft is returning to base,” Abbott added.
“The aid drops will continue until the security of the Yazidi civilians is assured and they can safely move from Mount Sinjar.”