Military.com Aug 07, 2014 | by Richard Sisk
The U.S. began a series of airdrops of relief supplies Thursday to civilians fleeing Islamic militants in northern Iraq while holding off on bombing runs against the fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
A Pentagon official said that "the effort has begun" with airdrops by Air Force C-130 and C-17 cargo planes escorted by fighters to thousands of Christians and members of the Yazadi ethnic minority stranded without food or water by the fighting, CBS News reported.
The U.S. was also giving added consideration to airstrikes in northern Iraq following ISIL advances but White House officials gave no indication Thursday that bombing was imminent.
Following morning meetings with senior Defense and State Department officials, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest repeated the administration's previous stance that the Iraqis must first form a unity government before the U.S. would intervene militarily.
Earnest said that the crisis in northern Iraq, where the extremists were making gains against Kurdish forces, was "a particularly acute one" in which "innocent populations were persecuted just because of their ethnic identity."
The reference was to about 15,000 Yazidis, who are scorned by the militants as "devil worshippers." They fled to a mountaintop near the town of Sinjar, which was overrun by ISIL fighters.
However, Earnest said of the Iraqis that "We can't solve these problems for them. These problems can only be solved with Iraqi political solutions."
Earnest said "any sort of military action that would be taken in Iraq would be very limited in scope and very specific to addressing a core American objective."
As Earnest spoke, Iraqi-American protesters gathered outside the White House waving banners that said "U.S. We Need Your Help."
Earlier, CNN reported a U.S. official as saying that airstrikes were a possibility the Obama administration "has been talking about for some time and the latest news just might meet the threshold for action."
For weeks, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq has pleaded for U.S. airstrikes and arms to back up its overstretched "Peshmerga" forces in holding off ISIL. (Peshmerga loosely translated means "those who are prepared to die.")
On Thursday, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani urged residents not to panic as ISIL fighters reportedly advanced near the Kurdish capital of Irbil, where a small team of U.S. Special Forces troops have a Joint Operations Center.
"We urge the people not to panic and to remain calm in their places and continue their normal work and life," Barzani said. "We promise the people of Kurdistan to strike the terrorists with an iron fist."
Last month at the Aspen Security Forum, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. was prepared to take military action in Iraq, provided that the Baghdad government could solve its sectarian divides.
"If we can get a credible partner (in Iraq), then I think we can do any number of things" with Special Operations advisors and air support, Dempsey said.
"We can put advisors on the ground who know how to go far enough forward to provide intelligence, to provide planning expertise, to use close air support if we take a decision to provide close air support," Dempsey said.
"Clearly, we would have the capability to do that," Dempsey said, but the capability won't matter unless "we can find a strategy with partners willing to execute it."
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