AUG. 12, 2014
In Increase, U.S. to Send 130 Advisers to Aid Iraqis
By HELENE COOPER
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has sent an additional 130 military advisers to northern Iraq to help plan the evacuation of thousands of displaced people trapped by Sunni militants on Mount Sinjar, Defense Department officials said Tuesday, raising the possibility that a larger American force may eventually be needed in the rescue attempt.
While military officials said the Pentagon planned to continue aid drops of food and water, United States officials said they believed that some type of ground force would be necessary to secure the passage of the stranded members of the Yazidi group. The military is drawing up plans for consideration by President Obama that could include American ground troops in what is expected to be an international effort to rescue the refugees, a senior administration official said.
Mr. Obama has insisted, most recently on Monday, that he will not send American ground troops back to Iraq. But as the Yazidi crisis has deteriorated, American officials say they have become increasingly convinced that a humanitarian corridor will have to be established soon, with troops on the ground to help ensure safe passage for the displaced.
Asked Wednesday if there was any way to get the Yazidis off the mountain, Secretary of State John Kerry said, "That's exactly what we are assessing."
Mr. Kerry, who was in the Solomon Islands on his way back to the United States from a trip to Asia and Australia, added, "That is precisely what the team that he sent in is prepared to do. We will make a very rapid and critical assessment because we understand it is urgent to try to move those people off the mountain."
The 130 additional advisers will be Marines and Special Operations forces, a Defense Department official said.
"These forces will not be engaged in a combat role," the official said. "They will work closely with representatives from the U.S. Department of State and USAID to coordinate plans with international partners and nongovernment organizations committed to helping the Yazidi people." The official was referring to the United States Agency for International Development.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Ever since Mr. Obama announced last week that he had authorized military strikes to end the siege by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on the Yazidi and other religious minorities stranded on the mountain, military officials have maintained that airstrikes alone would not be enough, particularly if it became necessary to evacuate the displaced people.
American cargo planes have dropped food and water over the past five days, but the situation has become even more dire as Kurdish rescue helicopters dropping supplies have been besieged by desperate, starving people suffering from severe sunburns and even sunstroke.
"We can drop supplies, but it's not enough when you have people stranded with no trees or any kind of shade," one military official said Tuesday.
A big worry, he said, was that at some point the Sunni militants at the base of the mountain would become mixed with the refugees, making it impossible for airstrikes to continue effectively.
"Somebody is going to have to go in, whether it's the Kurdish military or the Iraqi military or international troops," the official said.
"Clearly we are working on options for a longer-term solution," a White House official said. "You can't drop water and food forever."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the troop deployment during remarks to Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
"This is not a combat boots on the ground kind of operation," Mr. Hagel said.
The 130 additional advisers brings the number of American military personnel in Iraq to more than 1,000, some three years after the last combat troops left the country. Around 900 American military advisers and security personnel were already in Iraq working with Iraqi security forces and protecting American personnel at the embassy in Baghdad and at other sites.
Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from Honiara, Solomon Islands.