U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday that the Islamist militant siege of Iraq’s Mount Sinjar had been broken and he did not expect to have to mount an evacuation or continue humanitarian airdrops.
“We helped vulnerable people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives,” Obama said at a press briefing. “Because of these efforts we do not expect there to be an additional operation to evacuate people off the mountain and it’s unlikely we are going to need to continue humanitarian airdrops on the mountain.”
Obama said the United States would continue air strikes to protect U.S. facilities in Iraq and called on Iraqis to unite to defeat Islamist insurgents.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said earlier Thursday that U.S. officials believe the number on Sinjar is now “in the neighbourhood of 4,000,” and that between 1,500 and 2,000 of those are local residents who live there and 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.
A U.S. assessment team that spent Wednesday on the mountaintop reported numbers far smaller and circumstances less dire than feared. Two officials said they estimated that roughly 4,500 were atop the mountain, half of which were local herders.
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 neighbouring 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.
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