A team of U.S. military personnel arrived on Mt. Sinjar in Iraq Wednesday to consider an evacuation plan for stranded Yazidis.
The Yazidis — an ethnic and religious minority — fled to the mountains as the ultra-violent Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) made headway in the predominantly Kurdish region, according to the Associated Press. The U.S. was considering creating a “humanitarian corridor,” airlifting the refugees, and other options.
But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday an “evacuation mission” is now less likely because the number of refugees has gone down.
Previous estimates put the number of refugees as high as 40,000, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Associated Press on Wednesday the number had gone down, making a rescue effort less likely. Officials have not provided an updated refugee count, saying only that there are “several thousands” of people still stranded in the mountains.
The Department of Defense said thousands of Yazidi refugees have already been able to evacuate due to successful aid drops, air strikes, and the efforts of the Peshmerga, the name for local Kurdish fighters. The remaining refugees are in better condition than previously thought.
The team that visited Mt. Sinjar was a small group of special forces.
The Guardian, ABC News, and others said the team was comprised of Marines and others, though the AP said it was made up of Green Berets. Both CNN and Dion Nissenbaum of the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. group that arrived Wednesday included a handful of advisers.
The forces landed early in the morning and left by 11 p.m., CBS News reported
According to The Guardian, the advisers arrived Wednesday in a helicopter and joined special forces who were already on Mt. Sinjar. Yazidis in the area told The Guardian they saw U.S. military personnel, but weren’t allowed to approach them. A handful of British soldiers also were on the ground Wednesday to gather intelligence.
The U.S. will continue protecting American facilities and people in the region. Humanitarian air drops also will continue as needed, according to the Department of Defense.
The team landed one day after the U.S. announced a plan to send nearly 130 military advisers to Iraq to help locals fight ISIS, which has taken over large swaths of the region. The advisers are not combat troops.
The U.S. also announced Wednesday that it “continued to engage ISIL terrorists in Iraq today, successfully conducting an airstrike” on a truck in the town of Sinjar. President Obama authorized air strikes last week, along with humanitarian aid drops to to the stranded Yazidis. As of Tuesday, the U.S. had dropped up to 100,000 meals and more than 27,000 gallons of water.
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