President Barack Obama is considering airstrikes and emergency-relief airdrops of food and medicine to aid approximately 40,000 religious minorities in Iraq threatened by advances from the extremist Islamic militants.
The New York Times reports Obama is mulling his options amid the budding “humanitarian crisis.” The extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has threatened tens of thousands of Iraqis who belong to the Yazidi religious sect who are trapped on Mount Sinjar without access to food, water, or other aid. It has given the Yazidis a near-impossible dilemma — leave and risk being killed by the militants, or stay and hope aid comes their way.
The options Obama is considering include aid drops on Mount Sinjar or airstrikes against the ISIS militants at the base of the mountain.
“We have been working urgently and directly with officials in Baghdad and Erbil to coordinate Iraqi airdrops to people in need,” a senior Defence Department official told Business Insider. “The Government of Iraq has initiated air drops in the region, and we are in constant communication with them on how we can help coordinate additional relief, enhance their efforts, and provide direct assistance wherever possible.”
The Times reported the Obama administration had not wanted to intervene militarily in the crisis until Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stepped down and a new government was put in place, but the urgent situation may have “forced their hand.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday that the White House “strongly condemns” the situation on Mount Sinjar, which he said was “nearing a humanitarian catastrophe.” But he declined to comment on any specific options Obama was considering.
“I’m not in a position to shed light about the president’s thinking at this point,” Earnest said.
Earnest reiterated, as Obama has many times throughout the unfolding crisis in Iraq, that any U.S. military action would be limited in scope and would not include any American “boots on the ground.”
UNICEF said that as of Tuesday, about 40 children had already died on the mountain from dehydration and heat exhaustion.
“A humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sinjar,” Nickolay Mladenov, special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, said in a statement earlier this week. “The Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government should urgently restore their security cooperation in dealing with the crisis.”
This post has been updated with comment from the White House.
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