- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 14, 2014

Details of a covert fact-finding operation that took place on a mountaintop in northern Iraq began to trickle out of the Pentagon late Thursday.

On Wednesday, a Defense Department-led team of 20 embarked on a daylong excursion to Mount Sinjar to scope out a potential evacuation plan that would whisk the thousands of Yazidi-ethno religious minorities who have been seeking refuge there to safety.

The Yazidis have been fleeing an violent and war-savvy militant group, known as the Islamic State.

Pentagon officials said the scoping expedition yielded unexpected results. For example, the amount of Yazidi on top of the mountain topped out at about 5,000 — a significantly lower number than the 20,000 who were there last week, the officials said.

“Those who remain on the mountain are in better condition than we though they might be,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Kirby said.

In addition, less than half of the Yazidis, about 2,000, indicated that they wanted to leave the mountain, according to Adm. Kirby. The rest of the Yazidis said they no longer felt under pressure to flee from the Islamic State, according to Pentagon officials. Those who were content to stay on the mountain had access to numerous pallets of pre-packaged food, tents and other means of shelter, the officials said.

At the height of the humanitarian crisis, roughly 1,500 were fleeing the mountain on a daily basis, according to Pentagon officials.

The team’s findings prompted President Obama to announce Thursday that the United States no longer planned to initiate a rescue operation to save the Yazidis on top of the mountain.

But that does not mean that the crisis is resolved or that the U.S. military is done playing a role in assisting the Yazidi and Kurdish people who have been threatened by the Islamic State, according to Adm. Kirby. The Defense Department may deliver additional humanitarian aid in the future, if circumstances warrant that action, Adm. Kirby said.

“We’re certainly going to hold that option open,” he said. “That’s what we do. We provide options.”

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