Aug. 12, 2014
Another 130 US troops arrived in Iraq on Tuesday on what the Pentagon described as a temporary mission to assess the scope of the humanitarian crisis facing thousands of displaced Iraqi civilians trapped on Mt Sinjar and evaluate options for getting them out to safety.
The defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, announced the deployment in remarks to Marines at the Camp Pendleton base in Southern California, on the final stop of a week-long, around-the-world trip that also took him to India, Germany and Australia.
“This is not a combat, boots-on-the-ground kind of operation,” Hagel said. “We’re not going back into Iraq in any of the same combat mission dimensions that we once were in in Iraq.”
Another defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide additional details on the sensitive mission, said the extra troops were Marines and special operations forces whose mission was to assess the situation in the Sinjar area and to develop additional humanitarian assistance options beyond current US efforts there. Another official said the mission for the 130 troops could last less than a week.
That official said that while the troops were not being sent in to execute a rescue mission of the Yazidis on the mountain, they would assess the feasibility of a rescue and assist in the effort to evaluate the use of airstrikes to protect the Yazidis from attacks by the Islamic State militants.
Hagel referred to the 130 as “assessors.”
The additional troops arrived on Tuesday in Irbil, east of Sinjar. They were to work with representatives of the State Department and the US Agency for International Development to coordinate plans with international partners and non-government organisations to help the trapped Yazidi civilians.
Barack Obama has said repeatedly he will not send ground combat forces back into Iraq.
One immediate dilemma was the fate of thousands of displaced Yazidis in the Sinjar area who have been provided with food and water delivered by US cargo planes in recent days. Washington also was considering how to increase its military assistance to the Kurds, whose militia is outgunned by the militants.
On Tuesday night, US Central Command said four US Air Force cargo planes dropped 108 bundles of food and water intended for the civilians stranded on Mt Sinjar. It was the sixth such humanitarian relief mission conducted by US planes since last week.
The 130 were in addition to 90 US military advisers already in Baghdad and 160 in a operations centres in Irbil and Baghdad, working with Iraqi security forces. There are also about 455 US security forces and 100 military personnel working in the Office of Security Cooperation in the US embassy in Baghdad.
US officials said that while the president had capped the number of troops deployed to Iraq, these latest forces were being sent under the authorisation for humanitarian assistance and therefore did not exceed the limits.