U.S., UK wind down Mount Sinjar aid operation

U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday that military operations had broken the siege around the mountain in northern Iraq

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The U.S. and UK have begun to wind down aid operations in northern Iraq to civilians fleeing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants due to the improving situation, as President Barack Obama said Thursday that U.S. operations have broken the siege around Mount Sinjar.

Britain has suspended aid drops to civilians trapped Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq after the situation there eased, but said it will continue to provide humanitarian support across the region, while U.S. President Barack Obama said that U.S. air strikes would continue to strike ISIS targets if they threaten U.S. personnel and facilities in the region, including the Kurdish regional capital Erbil.

Earlier a spokesman for the Pentagon said there was little if any need to airdrop more food and water to Iraqis atop the mountain because most of the stranded have left and the remainder are in less dire need.

A surveillance mission by Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado jets overnight reinforced a U.S. assessment that the number of people under siege on Mount Sinjar was smaller than previously believed, a spokeswoman for Downing Street said reiterating statements made by U.S. officials earlier on Thursday.

Britain dropped another consignment of aid overnight Wednesday, the seventh in four nights, bringing the total water delivered to more than 48,000 liters. But a spokeswoman said there were no immediate plans for any more.

“We are currently reviewing the need for additional airdrops, given that there appear to be adequate supplies on the mountain, but we will keep the option open if we establish there is further need,” a spokeswoman said.

“Our plans need to be flexible enough to respond to this situation,” Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday.

British forces are also transporting military supplies for Kurdish forces fighting ISIS militants, including equipment provided from eastern Europe.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond will use Friday’s meeting of European Union foreign ministers to press for better co-ordination of aid and military supplies to Iraq, the spokeswoman added.

Separately, German air force planes will deliver humanitarian aid to northern Iraq on Friday, media reported Thursday, as Chancellor Angela Merkel said Berlin was also considering sending weapons to help the embattled country.

Four German Transall C-160 military transporters, carrying 36 tonnes of mostly medical and food supplies, will fly via Turkey to the Kurdish city of Erbil, reported national news agency DPA.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said this week that Germany may also send non-lethal military hardware such as armored vehicles, helmets, security vests and night-vision gear.

“Stopping the advance of these extremists [ISIS] and helping those in need is a task for the entire international community,” Merkel was quoted as saying by the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung.

Attacks across Iraq’s north and west by ISIS 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, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, the United Nations announced its highest level of emergency for the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, the Associated Press reported.

However, a U.N. spokesman said Thurday the number of Iraqi civilians arriving in camps on both sides of the Syrian border after being besieged for days has declined sharply.

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