Defense Department officials say a mission to rescue thousands of refugees atop Iraq’s Sinjar Mountain is less likely after a team of U.S. Army Green Berets surveyed the situation in the last day and found fewer refugees and better conditions than had been expected.
The commandos returned Wednesday from a scouting expedition for a potential rescue mission projected to save the thousands of Yazidis who have been driven from their homes and onto a barren mountain range in northern Iraq by the Islamic State group.
“The Yazidis who remain are in better condition than previously believed and continue to have access to the food and water that we have dropped,” he said.
“Based on this assessment, the interagency has determined that an evacuation mission is far less likely.”
The Associated Press reported that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made similar comments to reporters after returning to the D.C. area Wednesday night.
The dwindling number of Yazidis seeking refuge on the mountain is partly due to the success of more than a dozen humanitarian aid deliveries and numerous air strikes on Islamic State militants in the area, Adm. Kirby said. That number could also be attributed to the efforts of Kurdish fighters to help “thousands of Yazidis to evacuate from the mountain each night over the last several days,” he said.
The assessment team spent “roughly a day” on the mountain gathering information and conducting analysis, according to a senior Pentagon official.
“They went in under the cover of darkness last night and they departed as soon as it was dark again,” the official said.
The team took a day trip via Black Hawk helicopters to scout for potential escape routes on Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq that is serving as a temporary haven from the Yazidi, according to Pentagon officials.