President Obama said Thursday that U.S. forces have broken Islamic militants' siege of Iraq's Mt. Sinjar, and he declared the humanitarian mission to save thousands of refugees stranded on the barren mountain a success.
“We helped vulnerable people reach safety, and we helped saved many innocent lives,” Obama said, adding that it is “unlikely” that the U.S. would need to continue airdrops of humanitarian supplies on the mountain.
The Pentagon aborted planning for a rescue mission to remove Yazidi refugees who has fled up the mountain to escape the forces of the Al Qaeda breakaway group known as the Islamic State. When a team of special forces personnel landed in the area to assess the crisis, they found far fewer refugees and better conditions than previously thought, officials said, with many refugees having apparently made their way down the mountain safely.
Obama said Kurdish forces continue to help others find safety.
The president said he was proud of the “almost flawless” humanitarian mission. The Yazidi refugees faced a “terrible choice” between food and water or safety, he said, and “that’s when America came to help,” he said.
The president said the U.S. could conduct similar humanitarian missions in other parts of Iraq.
In ordering the intervention in Iraq last week, Obama said the mission was two-fold -- easing the developing humanitarian disaster at Mt. Sinjar and protecting U.S. diplomats and other personnel stationed in the Kurdish capital of Irbil. The president said the latter mission continues.
“We will continue airstrikes to protect our facilities and people in Iraq,” Obama said.