- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2014

The U.S. has begun a humanitarian mission to deliver supplies to tens of thousands of Iraqis trapped on a mountaintop by Islamist terrorists, Pentagon officials said Thursday night.

While the mission is under way, the actual airdrops have not yet begun, officials said. They also denied media reports that the U.S. has launched airstrikes against the Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the al Qaeda offshoot group that has plunged Iraq into chaos and taken control of key areas across the country, including the nation’s largest hydroelectric damn.

In capturing the Mosul Dam this week, ISIL fighters have trapped more than 40,000 Yazidis, a Kurdish ethnic-religious sect, in the Sinjar Mountain area in northern Iraq without access to food or water.

Iraqi security forces have been unable to stop the advance of ISIL, which has begun slaughtering Iraqi Christians after telling them they must convert or die. The group also has launched a string of car bomb attacks in Baghdad in recent days killing more than 90 people.

Earlier in the day, the White House said it still was weighing the situation and declined to commit to stop what may be a looming genocide.

“The question is how the United States can intervene to mitigate that situation. Those kinds of decisions are the decisions that are made on a case-by-case basis,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.

At the State Department, officials dubbed the situation a “huge humanitarian basis” but went no further than the White House.

“We are actively considering what we could do in support of Iraqi efforts – what more we could do — and particularly to provide additional support for the Yazidis, also the Christian communities we’ve talked about. Look, this is a huge humanitarian crisis,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “You have thousands and thousands of people at risk of death from starvation. We’re reviewing what more we can do.”

The careful posturing by the administration came on a day of biting criticism from an influential House Republican, who hammered President Obama for failing to follow through on a past promise to strengthen Washington’s ability to prevent genocide around the world.

In a letter to the president Thursday, Rep. Frank Wolfe of Virginia accused the administration of ignoring genocidal atrocities now taking place against both Iraqi Christians and Yazidis, whose traditions encompass a range of Islamic and ancient Persian beliefs.

Rep. Wolfe reminded Mr. Obama of a 2012 speech that the president gave at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial where he had said a newly-created “Atrocities Prevention Board” would make the deterrence of genocide and mass atrocities “a core national security interest and core moral responsibility.”

“Tragically, mass atrocities are happening again today — and on your watch,” Mr. Wolfe wrote in the letter. “Genocide is taking place today in northern Iraq, where the Christian and Yezidi populations are being exterminated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There is no question that systematic and targeted brutality is occurring.”

“…The silence from you and your administration is deafening,” the congressman added.

The letter hung in the backdrop of the administration’s daily press briefing on Thursday afternoon, with Mr. Earnest calling ISIL’s tactics “disgusting” and “barbaric” and declined to take air strikes off the table.

“The and cold and calculated manner in which ISIL has targeted defenseless Iraqis … solely because of their ethnic and religious identity demonstrates a callous disregard for human rights,” he said. “The U.S. government, as well as the U.S. military, is supporting the ongoing efforts of the Iraqi officials and Kurdish officials to address this urgent humanitarian crisis that exists. It is a situation we are deeply concerned about and closely monitoring.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Obama sent U.S. military personnel to Baghdad to guard the U.S. Embassy. He also dispatched 300 military advisers to assist Iraq’s armed forces in their fight against ISIL.

• Guy Taylor contributed to this report.

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