U.S. Special Forces Carried Out Mission on Iraqi Mountain
Maya Rhodan @m_rhodan
3:26 PM ET
About 20 soldiers scoped out a mountaintop where thousands of Iraqi civilians have fled
Yazidi families from Sinjar arrive at the Fishkhabur border crossing between Iraq's Dohuk Province and Syria, Aug. 10, 2014.
U.S. Army Special Forces were dropped atop a mountain in northern Iraq Wednesday to figure out how to rescue thousands of Iraqis stranded there after fleeing Islamist fighters, the Associated Press reports. The team of less than 20 soldiers were flown to and from the mountain aboard a helicopter and did not meet any armed resistance from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Pentagon official told the AP.
News of the operation came just hours after White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said President Barack Obama has not ruled out sending ground troops to help facilitate the safe rescue of trapped Iraqis. But Rhodes also said Obama won’t send troops to fight ISIS forces.
“What [Obama]’s ruled out is re-introducing U.S. forces into combat on the ground in Iraq,” Rhodes told reporters Wednesday on Martha’s Vineyard, where the President is vacationing. “But there are a variety of ways in which we can support the safe removal of those people from the mountain.”
An unknown number of an ethnic minority group known as the Yazidis have been stranded on a mountain range in northern Iraq for days, fleeing ISIS militants who spread into Iraq from Syria. The United Nations declared a “level 3 emergency” for Iraq on Wednesday in an effort to speed humanitarian aid to those stranded, while relief airdrops have come from the U.S. and several other nations. Washington has made the stranded Yazidis a top priority, deploying 130 military advisers to the region Tuesday to help plan rescue efforts.
Rhodes said Wednesday that the U.S. wants to find the best and safest way to get the trapped Yazidis off the mountain without having to engage ISIS militants.
“We have Kurdish forces who are engaged in the area,” Rhodes said. “We have international partners who also want to support the provision of humanitarian assistance. So we’ll look at what the best way and the safest way is to get those people off that mountain.”