The U.S. and British governments are expanding their ongoing missions to stop the persecution of ethnic-religious minorities in northern Iraq — a crisis that is on the brink of becoming a genocide, according to Obama administration officials.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel publicly announced that he had shipped about 130 advisers to northern Iraq in preparation for expanding a humanitarian mission to assist the Yazidi, who are fleeing a vicious and war-savvy Islamic militant group.
Reports that the team had departed for Irbil, Iraq, began trickling out of the Pentagon on Tuesday morning. Later in the evening, Mr. Hagel confirmed that the team had arrived in Irbil during a speech at Camp Pendlelton, California.
"I recommended to the president — and the president has authorized me — to go ahead and send about 130 new assessment team members up to northern Iraq in the Irbil area to take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help the Iraqis with what they're doing and the threats that they are now dealing with," he said. "Those new assessment team members arrived in the Irbil area today."
The team members will be placed within the proximity of the militant group now known as the Islamic State but also by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS, which is battling with Kurdish fighters on the outskirts of the city. Mr. Hagel described the group to the audience of U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton as "one of the most brutal barbaric forces that we've seen in the world today."
"It's a force and a dimension that the world has never seen before [that we're] see[ing] now," he said.
A defense official said Monday that the temporary additional forces will consist of Marines and special operations forces from within the U.S. Central Combat region.
"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 said.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the assessment team will be looking at the possibility of merging into a single mission the ongoing international humanitarian efforts to help Yazidi refugees who are trapped on a mountaintop in northern Iraq.
U.S. government and British officials have been separately delivering food and water to the Yazidis via cargo aircraft.
To date, the Pentagon has delivered more than 85,000 food packages and 20,000 gallons of water to the Yazidis. In addition, Britain has delivered to the refugees 15,900 liters of water, 3,180 reusable water containers and 816 solar lanterns, according to a spokesperson for British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Britain plans to step up that humanitarian aid in the near future by dispatching military helicopters to the region, according to the spokesperson. British Foreign Secretary William Hague made public that decision after meeting with a crisis response committee on developments in Iraq.
"[As] part of our efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering in Iraq, we are sending a small number of Chinook helicopters to the region for use if we decide we need further humanitarian relief options," the spokesman said. "Meanwhile, urgent planning to get those trapped on the mountainside to safety will continue in the coming days between ourselves and [the] U.S., the Kurdish authorities and other partners."
In addition to sending military helicopters to stand by for an expanding humanitarian mission, Britain will begin transporting critical military supplies to Kurdish fighters engaged in a battle with the Islamic State, according to the spokesman.
Britain is the first country to publicly announce that it will help arm the Kurds so that they can maintain the upper hand in an ongoing battle against the Islamic State.
The U.S. government is also arming the fighters with machine guns and rifles but only through a covert channel established by the CIA, according to The Associated Press.
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