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Iraq mountain siege over: US
- Airstrikes allow thousands to escape

Washington, Aug. 14: Defence department officials said late yesterday that US airstrikes and Kurdish fighters had broken the Islamic militants’ siege of Mount Sinjar, allowing thousands of the Yazidis trapped there to escape.

An initial report from about a dozen Marines and Special Operations forces who arrived on Tuesday and spent 24 hours on the northern Iraqi mountain said that “the situation is much more manageable,” a senior defence official said in an interview.

Defence secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking to reporters last night at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, said it was “far less likely now” that the US would undertake a rescue mission because the assessment team reported far fewer Yazidis on the mountain than expected, and that those still there were in relatively good condition.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, credited American airstrikes and humanitarian airdrops as well as efforts of the Kurdish peshmerga fighters in allowing “thousands of Yazidis to evacuate from the mountain each night over the last several days” and to escape the militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Administration officials said that several thousand Yazidis remained on the mountain, not the tens of thousands who originally were there.

Some of the people on Mount Sinjar indicated to American forces that they considered the mountain to be a place of refuge and a home and did not want to leave, a second US official said. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly on the issue.

The Yazidis are a religious minority who are regarded as heretics by the militants.

The latest twist came just hours after Benjamin J. Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, told reporters on Martha’s Vineyard, where President Obama is vacationing, that the President was likely to receive recommendations about how to mount a rescue operation in the next several days. He said those recommendations could have included the use of American ground troops.

But Rhodes made those comments as the secret team of Marines and Special Operations forces were already on Mount Sinjar, in the middle of a 24-hour trip to talk to the displaced people and peshmerga fighters. France, Britain and Germany all said they would increase their efforts to aid the people stranded on the mountain.

 
 
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