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US: Far fewer Iraqi refugees on Sinjar Mountain | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraqi Yazidi refugees boarding a helicopter aid flight in northern Iraq, 10 August 2014. (EPA/MICHEL REIMON / HANDOUT)

Iraqi Yazidi refugees board a helicopter aid flight in northern Iraq, on August 10, 2014. (EPA/Michel Reimon/Handout)

Iraqi Yazidi refugees board a helicopter aid flight in northern Iraq, on August 10, 2014. (EPA/Michel Reimon/Handout)

Washington, AP—Far fewer refugees remain on Iraq’s Sinjar Mountain and a US-led rescue mission is far less likely, US officials said on Wednesday night.

A team of US military personnel assessed the situation and reported that only several thousand refuges are on the mountain and that they appear to be in relatively good condition, the Pentagon said in a statement. Tens of thousands of displaced members of Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority had been reported to be on the mountain last week.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel credited US airdrops of food and water for sustaining those on the mountain and airstrikes for pushing back militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and allowing refugees to leave.

“As a result of that assessment, I think it’s most likely far less likely now that we would undertake any kind of specific humanitarian rescue mission that we have been planning,” Hagel told reporters as he returned to Washington from a world tour. “That doesn’t mean that we won’t.”

Iraq remains a troubled country, Hagel said, but he called the assessment of Sinjar Mountain a bit of good news. Of the US effort in Iraq, he said: “It’s not over. It’s not complete.”

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 their autonomous region in the north of the country.

Thousands of Yazidis on the mountain were able to leave each night over the last several days, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.

The US troops and US Agency for International Development staff who conducted the assessment on Sinjar—fewer than 20 people overall—did not engage in combat operations and all returned safely to Erbil by military aircraft, Kirby said.

“The Yazidis who remain are in better condition than previously believed and continue to have access to the food and water that we have dropped,” Kirby said. “Based on this assessment the interagency [group] has determined that an evacuation mission is far less likely. Additionally, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance as needed and will protect US personnel and facilities.”

The US Central Command said late on Wednesday that four US cargo planes airdropped 108 bundles of food and water to the remaining people atop the mountain. It was the seventh delivery by US forces of food and water since the relief operation began last week.