President Barack Obama said on Thursday that the Islamist terrorists’ siege of Iraq’s Mount Sinjar had been broken and most of the U.S. military personnel sent to assess the situation would be pulled out of Iraq in the coming days.
Obama, in a briefing to reporters, said he did not expect the United States to have to stage an evacuation of the mountain, where thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority had been trapped by terrorists, or to continue humanitarian airdrops.
“We broke the ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) siege of Mount Sinjar,” Obama said. “We helped innocent people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives. Because of these efforts we do not expect there to be an additional operation to evacuate people off the mountain and it’s unlikely that we are going to need to continue humanitarian airdrops on the mountain.
“The majority of the military personnel who conducted the assessment will be leaving Iraq in the coming days,” he said.
The United States had sent about 130 U.S. military personnel to Arbil to draw up options ranging from creating a safe corridor for the Yazidis to an airlift to rescue them. A team of fewer than 20 U.S. personnel flew to Mount Sinjar to assess the situation.
Obama said the United States would continue airstrikes to protect U.S. facilities in Iraq and called on Iraqis to unite to defeat Islamist insurgents.
The U.N. on Wednesday declared the situation in Iraq a “Level 3 Emergency” — a development that will allow for additional assets to respond to the needs of the displaced, said U.N. special representative Nickolay Mladenov, pointing to the “scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe.”
The decision came after some 45,000 people, members of the Yazidi religious minority, were able to escape from a remote desert mountaintop where they had been encircled by Islamic State fighters, who view them as apostates and had vowed to kill any who did not convert to Islam.
The U.N. said it would provide increased support to the Yazidis and to 400,000 other Iraqis who have fled since June to the Kurdish province of Dahuk. A total of 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting.