More US troops sent to northern Iraq, but only on temporary aid mission

Defence secretary insists they are there to assess humanitarian crisis facing Yazidi refugees

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 August, 2014, 9:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 1:03am

Another 130 US troops have arrived in Iraq 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 Sinjar mountain and evaluate options for moving them to safety.

And yesterday British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that an international plan was under way to rescue the trapped civilians.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the deployment in remarks to marines at a southern California base on the final stop of a week-long, round-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 on Tuesday. "We're not going back into Iraq in any of the same combat mission dimensions that we once were in, in Iraq," he added, referring to the eight-year war that cost more than 4,400 US lives and soured the American public on military involvement in Iraq.

Another defence official, speaking on Tuesday, 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. Still another official said the mission for the 130 troops could last less than one week.

That official also said that, while the troops were not being sent in to execute some type of rescue mission of the Yazidis on the mountain, they would assess the feasibility of a rescue or what one might look like. They would also assist in the ongoing effort to evaluate the use of air strikes as part of the mission to protect the Yazidis from attacks by Islamic State militants.

Hagel referred to the 130 as "assessors".

The additional troops arrived on Tuesday in the city of Arbil, well 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 on Sinjar mountain.

"They will make a very rapid and critical assessment because we understand it's urgent to try to move those people off the mountain," Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters travelling with him in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

The 130 troops join 90 US military advisers already in Baghdad and 160 in a pair of operations centres - one in Arbil and one in Baghdad - working with Iraqi security forces, and 100 military personnel and some 455 other members of the security forces working through the US embassy in Baghdad.

Cameron, who declined to give details of the rescue operation, said: "Clearly there is an absolutely desperate situation in Iraq, particularly on this mountainside.

"I'm proud of the fact that British aeroplanes and British aid have been playing a role and will continue to play a role to help these people.

"But we need a plan to get these people off that mountain and get them to a place of safety. I can confirm that detailed plans are now being put in place and are underway and that Britain will play a role in delivering them."