August 14, 2014 - 11:02 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - A U.S. mission to evacuate Iraqi civilians trapped on a mountain by Sunni militant fighters is far less likely after a U.S. assessment team sent there on Wednesday, Aug 13, found the humanitarian situation not as grave as expected, the Pentagon said, according to Reuters.
A team of U.S. military and humanitarian aid personnel sent to Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq to assess the situation of thousand of members of the Yazidi religious minority found far fewer people than previously feared and in better condition than expected, the Pentagon said in a statement.
"Based on this assessment," the Pentagon said, "an evacuation mission is far less likely."
The Pentagon credited the better-than-expected situation on air drops of food and water, U.S. airstrikes on Sunni militant targets, efforts of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and the ability of thousands of Yazidis to evacuate the mountain in recent nights.
The White House said earlier the United States had not ruled out using American ground forces in an operation to extract the trapped civilians, but added the troops would not engage in combat.
The team of fewer than 20 U.S. personnel flew in darkness early in the morning to Mount Sinjar, where thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority fled to escape an advance by Islamic State fighters, a U.S. official said. The team returned safely to the Kurdistan capital of Arbil by military air.
Kurdish fighters had been guarding Yazidi towns when armed Islamic State convoys swept in, and have already helped many thousands escape to safe areas to the north.
Obama has been deeply reluctant to revive any military role in Iraq after withdrawing the last combat troops in 2011 to end eight years of costly war that eroded the United States' reputation around the world.
The president agreed last Thursday to send back more than 700 troops to help advise and guide Iraqi and Kurdish forces after a devastating sweep across northwestern Iraq by the Sunni Islamic State radicals, who have declared a caliphate covering much of the country.
U.S. warplanes have since carried out a series of attacks on Islamic State forces, including on some approaching Arbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and on roadblocks and artillery around Mount Sinjar to the west.
U.S. and British military forces have been dropping supplies of food and water to those on Mount Sinjar in the last week and other countries were also offering to help, including Australia, Canada and France.