Is The Siege On Mount Sinjar Broken?

by Dish Staff

A planned operation to rescue the thousands of Yazidis still camped out on Mount Sinjar in northwestern Iraq has been called off for the moment, with the Pentagon saying that the refugees were fewer in number and in better condition than initially believed:

After a small complement of special forces and US aid workers landed on Mount Sinjar to assess the situation of the Iraqi Yazidis – who for days have received air drops of food, water and medicine – the Pentagon said things were not as bad as initially feared. “An evacuation mission is far less likely,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, late on Wednesday. US humanitarian aid drops would continue, Kirby said, but for now US planes or troops would not come to rescue the remaining Yazidis from the mountaintop terrain that has provided a harsh refuge. …

“There are far fewer Yazidis on Mount Sinjar than previously feared,” Kirby said, crediting “the success of the humanitarian air drops, air strikes on [Isis] targets, the efforts of the Peshmerga [Kurdish guerillas] and the ability of thousands of Yazidis to evacuate from the mountain each night over the last several days”.

An evacuation has not, however, been permanently ruled out. Josh Voorhees weighs how it would play out politically:

The Defense Department’s current airstrike and aid-drop efforts have mainly been received positively from both parties in Congress. A rescue operation, however targeted, might change that, especially if it included a direct confrontation with ISIS fighters.

It could also be particularly difficult to sell given the lengths the White House has gone to to rule one out. “American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq,” President Obama said this past weekend, “because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis there.” It’s that last clause that the White House will no doubt point to if they do launch a short-term rescue effort.

Gordon Lubold wonders whether Obama will be able to stick to his “no ground troops” pledge:

The Pentagon confirmed late Wednesday that about 20 U.S. special operations forces had been sent to the mountain to assess the needs of the thousands of Iraqi civilians stranded there. They are part of a group of 130 troops Obama authorized Tuesday to go into Iraq to conduct an assessment of the humanitarian crisis. Those U.S. troops, in turn, join an additional 800 service members the Pentagon has deployed to Iraq since June, bringing the total number of troops the Pentagon has announced publicly up to nearly 1,000. The special operations forces returned to their base without incident, but their short time on the mountain could be the beginning of a new, dangerous chapter in Obama’s reluctant use of the military in Iraq. …

But it’s the airstrike campaign that could force the United States to expose more American forces to combat. Central Command has announced a number of airstrikes since the bombing campaign to protect Iraqi civilians, guard American personnel, and weaken IS began last Friday. Typically, such airstrikes would require personnel on the ground to “call in” those attacks. That would require U.S. personnel to operate in areas close to those controlled by the militants.

While a rescue mission is not the same thing as re-invading Iraq, Zack Beauchamp dismisses the administration’s claim that it wouldn’t count as “combat”:

[Deputy National Security Advisor Ben] Rhodes, according to the Times, differentiates between “the use of American forces to help a humanitarian mission and the use of troops in the battle against militants from the Islamic State.” In one sense, this is classic Obama squirrelly language. The administration got around legal limits on the 2011 Libya war by calling it a “kinetic military operation” rather than a “war.” Here, they’re calling what’s clearly a combat mission a “humanitarian” operation. Regardless of what they call it, US troops would almost certainly exchange gunfire with ISIS forces. Sorry, Ben — that’s combat.

But for people worried about mission creep, which is a reasonable thing to worry about, the distinction does matter. Rhodes’ point is that the US still hasn’t changed its decision that US ground troops should not be trying to roll back ISIS. He doesn’t even seem to be open to the idea of US troops, in addition to the ongoing US airstrikes, directly supporting the Kurdish peshmerga trying to drive ISIS out of Kurdistan.