After a day of speculation that the United States might launch a targeted military operation in Iraq to rescue thousands of stranded Yadizis, the Pentagon said Wednesday night that such an effort is increasingly unlikely because of the combined gains made by U.S. airstrikes and Kurdish forces over the past 48 hours. American officials say a group of 20 or so military advisers got their first up-close look at the situation on Mount Sinjar over the past 24 hours and concluded that the situation is now significantly less dire, according to the New York Times.
“The team has assessed that there are far fewer Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar than previously feared, in part because of the success of humanitarian air drops, air strikes on [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] targets, the efforts of the Peshmerga and the ability of thousands of Yazidis to evacuate from the mountain each night over the last several days,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told Politico late Wednesday. An unknown number of Yazidis remain on the mountain, but Kirby said they “are in better condition than previously believed and continue to have access to the food and water that we have dropped.”
The news would appear to spare President Obama from ordering a military operation that could have resulted in a direct clash between U.S. forces and the Islamic State fighters who forced the Yazidis from their homes. Such a conflict—however limited—would risk returning the U.S. military to a combat situation in Iraq three years after the last U.S. combat troops left the country. Still, Pentagon officials are cautioning that a rescue operation, while now significantly less likely than a day ago, nonetheless remains on the table as the president continues to weigh his next steps in response to ISIS’s recent advances.