Obama: No Iraq rescue; further airdrops unlikely

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Obama: No Iraq rescue; further airdrops unlikely
This image released by the U.S. Air Force, shows pallets of bottled water loaded aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in preparation for a humanitarian airdrop over Iraq, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr)
President Barack Obama speaks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, about ongoing situation in Iraq before his departure on Marine One for a vacation in Martha's Vineyard. Obama announced late Thursday that he had ordered military airstrikes in northern Iraq to hold off Islamic State forces advancing on the Kurdish capital of Irbil. Obama also ordered airdrops of food and water to member of a religious minority group who fled into the mountains to escape the militants. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
This Aug. 7, 2014, released by the U.S. Air Force, shows U.S. Soldiers with the 5th Special Forces Group, 101st Airborne Division and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Gulf Cooperation Council work with parachute riggers assigned to the 11th Quartermaster Co., Special Troops Battalion, 82nd Sustainment Brigade to palletize halal meals for a humanitarian airdrop in Iraq, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock)
UNSPECIFIED - AUGUST 9: In this handout image provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Staff Sgt. Daniel Leavindofske, 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron ramp team chief and Senior Airman David Babcock, air transportation journeyman, assist with loading bundles of halal meals on to a C-17 Globemaster III for a humanitarian airdrop mission over Iraq, August 9, 2014, at a base in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. The humanitarian aid includes bottled water and food which was delivered to displaced citizens in the vicinity of Sinjar, Iraq. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr./U.S. Air Force via Getty Images)
President Barack Obama speaks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, about ongoing situation in Iraq before his departure on Marine One for a vacation in Martha's Vineyard. Obama announced late Thursday that he had ordered military airstrikes in northern Iraq to hold off Islamic State forces advancing on the Kurdish capital of Irbil. Obama also ordered airdrops of food and water to member of a religious minority group who fled into the mountains to escape the militants. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama speaks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, about ongoing situation in Iraq before his departure on Marine One for a vacation in Martha's Vineyard. Obama announced late Thursday that he had ordered military airstrikes in northern Iraq to hold off Islamic State forces advancing on the Kurdish capital of Irbil. Obama also ordered airdrops of food and water to member of a religious minority group who fled into the mountains to escape the militants. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama speaks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, about ongoing situation in Iraq before his departure on Marine One for a vacation in Martha's Vineyard. Obama announced late Thursday that he had ordered military airstrikes in northern Iraq to hold off Islamic State forces advancing on the Kurdish capital of Irbil. Obama also ordered airdrops of food and water to member of a religious minority group who fled into the mountains to escape the militants. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
This image released by the U.S. Air Force, shows pallets of bottled water loaded aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in preparation for a humanitarian airdrop over Iraq, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr)
This image provided by the U.S. Defense Department shows pallets of bottled water are loaded aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in preparation for a humanitarian airdrop over Iraq Aug. 8, 2014. Airmen with the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron airdropped 40 bundles of water for displaced citizens in the vicinity of Sinjar, Iraq. American planes conducted a second airdrop of food and water early Saturday for those trapped in the Sinjar mountains, said Pentagon chief spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
President Barack Obama approaches the podium to speak about the situation in Iraq in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Obama says he has authorized the U.S. military to launch targeted airstrikes if Islamic militants advance toward American personnel in northern Iraq. He also has announced that the military carried out airdrops of humanitarian aid Thursday to Iraqi religious minorities threatened by the extremists. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Obama says he has authorized the U.S. military to launch targeted airstrikes if Islamic militants advance toward American personnel in northern Iraq. He also has announced that the military carried out airdrops of humanitarian aid Thursday to Iraqi religious minorities threatened by the extremists.(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama arrives to speak about the situation in Iraq in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Obama says he has authorized the U.S. military to launch targeted airstrikes if Islamic militants advance toward American personnel in northern Iraq. He also has announced that the military carried out airdrops of humanitarian aid Thursday to Iraqi religious minorities threatened by the extremists. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Obama says he has authorized the U.S. military to launch targeted airstrikes if Islamic militants advance toward American personnel in northern Iraq. He also has announced that the military carried out airdrops of humanitarian aid Thursday to Iraqi religious minorities threatened by the extremists.(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Obama says he has authorized the U.S. military to launch targeted airstrikes if Islamic militants advance toward American personnel in northern Iraq. He also has announced that the military carried out airdrops of humanitarian aid Thursday to Iraqi religious minorities threatened by the extremists.(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
This Aug. 7, 2014, image released by the U.S. Air Force shows U.S. Airmen with the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron palletize halal meals for a humanitarian airdrop in Iraq on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
This Aug. 7, 2014, released by the U.S. Air Force, shows U.S. Soldiers with the 5th Special Forces Group, 101st Airborne Division and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Gulf Cooperation Council working with parachute riggers assigned to the 11th Quartermaster Co., Special Troops Battalion, 82nd Sustainment Brigade to palletize water for a humanitarian airdrop in Iraq Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock)
In this image provided by the U.S. Defense Department supplies aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft are seen in preparation for a humanitarian airdrop over Iraq Friday Aug. 8, 2014. Airmen with the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron airdropped 40 bundles of water for displaced citizens in the vicinity of Sinjar, Iraq. American planes conducted a second airdrop of food and water early Saturday for those trapped in the Sinjar mountains, said Pentagon chief spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)
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By ROBERT BURNS and JULIE PACE

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama said Thursday the humanitarian crisis atop a barren hill in northern Iraq is over, eliminating the need for a risky U.S. rescue mission. But Iraqis elsewhere face a "dire" threat from an advancing Islamic army, he said.

Obama said the U.S. will work with other governments to provide humanitarian relief "wherever we have capabilities" and can effectively reach those in need, even as U.S. warplanes continue a limited, defensive campaign of airstrikes. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been driven from their homes since June as the militants seized swaths of territory in northern Iraq.

A U.S. military and civilian team of 16 people spent Wednesday atop Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq, to assess conditions and see how many Iraqis needed to be evacuated. They reported that the number of trapped Iraqis was about 4,000 - far fewer than anticipated -- and that U.S.-supplied food and water had reached many of those in need in recent days.

Obama Praises Military Rescue Efforts at Mt. Sinjar


Obama said the U.S. had delivered 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of water to the Iraqis, who were faced with almost certain death at the hands of the Islamic State group if they descended the mountain and possible starvation if they stayed atop Sinjar.

"The bottom line is, is that the situation on the mountain has greatly improved and Americans should be very proud of our efforts," Obama said, speaking from his vacation spot in Edgartown, Mass. "We broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar, we helped vulnerable people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives."

ISIL refers to the militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or simply the Islamic State. It is an al-Qaida inspired extremist group that controls much of northern and western Iraq and aspires to create a caliphate in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

The United Nations on Wednesday declared the situation in Iraq a "Level 3 Emergency" - a development that will allow for additional assistance to the displaced, said U.N. special representative Nickolay Mladenov, pointing to the "scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe."

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said prior to Obama's remarks that U.S. officials believe the number of trapped Iraqis on Sinjar is now "in the neighborhood of 4,000," and that between 1,500 and 2,000 of those are locals who have no plans to leave.

"We believe based on our assessment of conditions on the mountain that it is much less likely that we'll need to continue to airdrop any more food and water," Kirby said. The last airdrop was Wednesday.

That does not, however, substantially change the big picture in Iraq, which is in crisis with a problem-plagued government and an aggressive Sunni insurgency.

The Obama administration has been airdropping food on the mountain and had contemplated a military-led rescue of civilians who fled there to escape the militant group known as the Islamic State. But it had been unclear how many people might need evacuation. Some had reported them to number in the tens of thousands.

After being briefed on the assessment team's trip to Sinjar Mountain, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that it was "far less likely" now that a rescue mission would be needed.

Hagel called the assessment a bit of good news. Of the U.S. effort in Iraq, he said: "It's not over. It's not complete."

Attacks across Iraq's north and west by the Islamic State and its Sunni militant allies this summer have displaced members of the minority Christian and Yazidi religious communities and threatened neighboring Iraqi Kurds in the autonomous region.

Thousands of Yazidis on the mountain were able to leave each night over the last several days, Kirby said in a statement Wednesday.

The U.S. troops and U.S. Agency for International Development staff who conducted the assessment on Sinjar - fewer than 20 people overall - did not engage in combat operations and all returned safely to Irbil by military aircraft, he said.

"The Yazidis who remain are in better condition than previously believed and continue to have access to the food and water that we have dropped," Kirby said. "We will continue to provide humanitarian assistance as needed and will protect U.S. personnel and facilities."

The U.S. Central Command said late Wednesday that four U.S. cargo planes airdropped 108 bundles of food and water to the remaining people atop the mountain. It was the seventh U.S. delivery of food and water since the relief operation began last week.

Related:
Obama Foreign Policy
Clinton Criticizes Obama Policies
Cost of War in Iraq
ISIS Extremist Tactics
Deaths in Iraq
Yazidi Religious Beliefs

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