U.S. Considering Ground Troops To Rescue Trapped Iraqi Refugees

By: From CBS News
By: From CBS News

WASHINGTON (CBS News) -- President Obama has asked his military advisers to prepare options for evacuating a group of trapped religious minorities from a mountain in Iraq that would not put U.S. personnel into a combat mission.

CBS News reported a U.S. team has just conducted a reconnaisance mission on Mount Sinjar to assess the chances for a successful rescue mission.

The administration announced Tuesday that it was sending an additional 130 military personnel into the northern part of the country, where most of the fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is taking place to assess the scope of the ongoing humanitarian mission and develop new options. The U.S. is currently providing air drops of food and water to the Yazidi people, a religious minority that remains trapped in the Sinjar Mountains under the threat of death from ISIS.

CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin also reports that a team of about 20 Americans flew to Mount Sinjar in black hawk helicopters during the early hours of Wednesday morning to conduct reconnaissance for a possible rescue mission. They left at at 11 p.m. Iraqi time on Wednesday.

The president, "is open to recommendations in which the United States is helping to facilitate the removal of these people from the mountain on a humanitarian mission, which we believe is separate than saying U.S. forces are going to be redeployed in Iraq in a combat role to take the fight to [ISIS]," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes (the brother of CBS News president David Rhodes) told reporters Wednesday.

While noting that no decision has been made yet, Rhodes indicated the military advisers would look at creating a humanitarian corridor to allow the Yazidis to escape, airlifting them off the mountain, and other options. He said recommendations are expected "in a matter of days."

Rhodes would not rule out the possibility of sending additional U.S. forces to Iraq to assist with the effort, saying only that no troops would be sent in for the purpose of combat.

"The principle holds that we're not putting ground forces into combat role in Iraq," Rhodes said. "We're using U.S. military personnel to assess what the best way is to bring people to safety and what the best way is to provide them with humanitarian assistance."

Still, he acknowledged that there are "absolutely" dangers associated with any military operation, but that the U.S. would not get drawn into another war.

The U.S. military continues to conduct airstrikes against ISIS to help the Kurdish forces fighting there. A strike conducted Tuesday destroyed an ISIS armed vehicle west of the village of Sinjar, which is located in the vicinity of one of the militant group's checkpoints. All U.S. aircraft exited the area safely.

Rhodes also said any plans for humanitarian assistance could rely not only on Kurdish and Iraqi forces, which are already battling ISIS, but also international partners including Britain, who are helping with humanitarian aid or have offered to.

The U.S. has deployed 864 troops to Iraq over the past two months to provide security assistance and assessments, humanitarian aid and embassy security. Another 100 troops are there full time as part of the normal embassy presence.

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