Pentagon Considering Iraq Rescue Mission for Trapped Yazidis
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 07:15 AM
By: Melanie Batley
The Pentagon is considering a risky mission to rescue thousands of Yazidi refugees who are trapped on a mountain in Iraq, bringing the United States one step closer to direct combat with ISIS on the ground.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the proposal is still being considered, is one of a range of options under review, and has not yet been approved by President Barack Obama.
"People are looking at ways to do something more than just drop water and supplies," one senior U.S. official told the Journal. "You can only do that for so long."
On Tuesday, the United States sent an additional 130 military advisers to northern Iraq to continue to weigh options about how to achieve the rescue of the refugees and halt the advance of ISIS.
"Any operation with respect to the mountain has its challenges," the official told the Journal. "Whether you try to do something by air, whether you try to do something by ground, both have inherent risks to them."
The United States, later joined by Britain, has been dropping food and water to the refugees by air. Australia is also expected to join the effort in the coming days, even as U.S. fighter jets have been bombing ISIS targets to halt their advance.
Earlier this week, the leader of the stranded refugees used his cell phone to call Middle East expert and frequent Newsmax TV contributor Walid Phares, begging for help.
"The sheik, who is the head of this Yazidi population, called me at midnight, and he said, 'I only have few minutes left of my cellphone, and I am urging you to be in touch with or to have a call to members of Congress, to the administration. We need immediate help,'" Phares recounted on "America's Forum."
"Of course, we can hear those strikes happening, but we have 100,000 people here without food, without water, and more importantly, we are encircled by ISIS who are trying, over the past few hours, to climb that mountain. So we need action there in Sinjar."
Meanwhile, Syrian Kurdish fighters have been clearing a path for the Yazidis to escape, many of whom have taken shelter at a refugee camp in Syria.
Officials said that a U.S.-led rescue mission may not be necessary if the refugees continue to find their way to safety.
"My sense is that the situation on Mount Sinjar is not as dire as it was 48 hours ago," a senior U.S. military official told the Journal.
One expert says that if the United States pursued a rescue mission, there is the risk of America being more deeply involved in the conflict than first anticipated.
"This to me represents a dramatic escalation, and I think it deserves a little bit of thought to avoid exactly a Black Hawk down situation, where you think you're there for humanitarian reasons and suddenly you're there for a civil war," Sam Brannen, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Journal.
Another expert pointed out that a rescue operation would put the lives of American troops at risk as it is often not possible to distinguish militants from civilians.
"Are you going to risk having someone come on to a helicopter or into a crowd that's actually a suicide bomber?" Michael Rubin, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Journal.
The administration continues to face criticism that the limited scope of the mission will not be effective in halting the capabilities of the terrorist group, with concerns rising in recent days about its ability to target the United States.
New York Rep. Peter King said Tuesday that while the airstrikes may be effective in ending the ISIS threat to the Yazidi refugees, the U.S. needs to launch "massive" air strikes if it is to prevail.
"If we're going to be successful, [if] we have to even have a chance of being successful, [we need] massive air attacks all over wherever ISIS is. Wherever we can hit them, do that," King said.
Arizona Sen. John McCain also warned that the limited airstrikes against ISIS would not be enough to curb its advancement.