Obama on Iraq: Yazidi Rescue Op No Longer Necessary
A U.S. rescue operation for members of the Yazidi faith community that have been trapped on Iraq's Sinjar Mountain will no longer be necessary, President Barack Obama announced Thursday.
"The situation on the mountain has greatly improved," Obama said at news conference at Martha's Vineyard. "We broke the siege of Mount Sinjar. We helped vulnerable people reach safety."
He added that it is also unlikely there will be any more aid drops from the U.S., which has delivered more than 114,000 meals and more than 35,000 gallons of water to the displaced and desperate Yazidis over the last five days.
Thursday's announcement comes after a Pentagon assessment team determined that the airdrops made a difference and that airstrikes on Islamic State targets allowed many of the Yazidis to escape.
Nevertheless, Obama said, airstrikes will continue.
"The situation remains dire for Iraqis subject to ISIL's (also known as ISIS) terror throughout the country," Obama said.
On Wednesday, United Nations officials condemned reports of sexual violence by Islamic terrorists against women and children belonging to Iraqi minorities.
"They say they have received atrocious accounts on the abduction and detention of Yazidi, Christian, Turkomen, and Shabak women and girls and boys, and reports of savage rapes. Some 1,500 Yazidis and Christians may have been forced into sexual slavery," Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general, said.
At issue now is whether the president, elected on a platform of ending the Iraq war, will heed the many calls for a military campaign to contain or destroy the Islamic State.
It's an undertaking that could dominate U.S. foreign policy for the remainder of his term.
His own defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, said the group poses "a threat to the civilized world."
Nevertheless, the president has only authorized a limited campaign of targeted airstrikes designed to protect refugees and American personnel in the Kurdish region - but not take out the group's leadership or logistical hubs.
"The role of U.S. forces is not one of re-entering combat on the ground. It's how to provide humanitarian assistance to this affected population," White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said.
A strategy to destroy the Islamic State would not require large numbers of American ground troops.
But it would require military action in western Syria where the Islamic State is headquartered, and perhaps most importantly, could stretch combat operations into the election season.