By HELENE COOPER
AUG. 7, 2014
President Obama is considering airstrikes or airdrops of food and medicine to address a humanitarian crisis among as many as 40,000 religious minorities in Iraq who have been dying of heat and thirst on a mountaintop after death threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, administration officials said on Thursday.
The president, in meetings with his national security team at the White House on Thursday morning, has been weighing a series of options ranging from dropping humanitarian supplies on Mount Sinjar to military strikes on the fighters from ISIS now at the base of the mountain, a senior administration official said.
“There could be a humanitarian catastrophe there,” a second administration official said, adding that a decision from Mr. Obama was expected “imminently — this could be a fast-moving train.”
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The White House declined to say whether Mr. Obama was weighing airstrikes or airdrops in Iraq, but the press secretary, Josh Earnest, said the United States was disturbed by what he described as “cold and calculated” attacks by ISIS on religious minorities in Iraq.
“These actions have exacerbated an already dire crisis, and the situation is nearing a humanitarian catastrophe,” Mr. Earnest told reporters. The campaign of attacks by ISIS, he said, “demonstrates a callous disregard for human rights and is deeply disturbing.”
Asked specifically about military options, Mr. Earnest said, “I’m not in a position to rule things on the table or off the table.” But he reiterated that there would be no American combat troops in Iraq and that any military action would be extremely limited.
“There are many problems in Iraq,” he said. “This one is a particularly acute one, because we’re seeing people persecuted because of their ethnic or religious identities.”
Mr. Earnest added: “There are no American military solutions to the problems in Iraq. These problems can only be solved with Iraqi political solutions.”
Mr. Obama made no mention of imminent military action as he traveled to Fort Belvoir in the Virginia suburbs on Thursday to sign legislation to overhaul the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs. Top officials were in the meantime gathering at the White House to discuss the possible Iraq action.
The administration had been delaying taking any military action against ISIS until there is a new Iraqi government. Both White House and Pentagon officials have said privately that the United States would not intervene militarily until Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki stepped down.
But administration officials said on Thursday that the crisis on Mount Sinjar may be forcing their hand. About 40 children have already died from the heat and dehydration, according to Unicef, while as many as 40,000 people have been sheltering in the bare mountains without food, water or access to supplies.
The administration officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. One official said that any military action would be “limited, specific and achievable,” noting that Mr. Maliki’s political party was supposed to announce a new candidate for prime minister on Thursday, but had not yet.