President Obama is considering ordering airdrops or airstrikes to help tens of thousands of ethnic Kurds who have been uprooted by the Islamic State and are now dying of thirst, the New York Times is reporting.
The Islamic State has recently taken more of northern Iraq, threatening religious minorities such as the Yazidi sect that they will be killed if they do not convert to Islam. As many as 40,000 Yazidi refugees are now trapped on Mount Sinjar and cut off from supplies. About 40 children are believed to have died already from heat and dehydration, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
Obama is considering a range of options to assist the refugees, which run the spectrum from airdropping food, medicine and other supplies to the refugees to launching airstrikes against the Islamic State fighters at the base of Mount Sinjar, the newspaper reported, citing an unnamed senior administration official.
Right now, the U.S. is not flying its own airdrop missions, but is working directly with Iraqi and Kurdish officials to coordinate the delivery of supplies to the Yazidis on the mountaintop, a defense official told Military Times.
“The Government of Iraq has initiated airdrops 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 defense official said in an email on Thursday.
The U.S. also is calling on the international community to help Iraqis who need humanitarian assistance, a U.S. official told Military Times.
In May, the Iraqi government asked the U.S. to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State, but the U.S. did not have enough intelligence at the time to do so, Brett McGurk, deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, told Congress last month.
The Iraqi’s request for airstrikes remains “under active consideration,” McGurk said in July 23 testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that the White House has been delaying military action against the Islamic State until Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki steps down, but the situation at Mount Sinjar may force the administration to act.
In other troubling news from Iraq, the Islamic State reportedly captured the Mosul Dam, a major source of electricity and water for Iraqis that is in need of constant upkeep. If the dam fails, massive flooding would result.
More than 700 U.S. troops are in Iraq, helping to run control centers, protecting the U.S. Embassy and advising Iraqi forces. The Defense Department also is sending munitions to help bolster Iraqi forces, including 466 Hellfire missiles delivered in July for a total of 780 this year, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said last week.
Manned and unmanned aircraft have been flying 50 intelligence sorties per day over Iraq, and a U.S. aircraft carrier is standing by in the Arabian Gulf, Kirby said.
Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. Lukman Faily gave a speech on July 21 urging the U.S. to immediately “conduct counter-terrorism operations” and launch “precision U.S. air attacks” against the Islamic State, adding: “The U.S. should offer air support targeting terrorist camps and supply convoys in remote areas.”