With 40,000 members of the ancient Yazidi sect trapped on a mountain in northwest Iraq and facing a potential genocide at the hands of the Islamic extremist group ISIS, U.S. President Barack Obama is said to be measuring his options for intervention to rescue the members of the long-oppressed religious group who have already begin to perish from lack of water and extreme heat on Iraq’s Mount Sinjar.
“The president is weighing both passive and active options,” said a senior Obama administration official speaking anonymously to The New York Times on Thursday. The official said that a decision on what to do by Obama could be “imminent,” with a humanitarian catastrophe looming.
“This could be a fast-moving train,” said the official, in the Times report.
While Iraqi government aircraft have dropped some humanitarian aid supplies on the mountain for the surrounded Yazidi, getting aid to the desperate refugees, driven from their nearby homes by an ISIS assault, has not been entirely successful due to the complications of dropping supplies from the air onto the top of a mountain.
But United States military pilots have far more experience with airdrops onto mountains and other difficult-to-target areas.
The Muslim extremists of ISIS consider the Yazidi, who adhere to a widely misunderstood ancient religion often incorrectly characterized as “devil worship,” to be evil.
Humanitarian aid to the besieged Yazidi is not the only option under consideration inside the White House, the Times reported. The president is also looking at what the senior official called “active” options, meaning direct military airstrikes against the ISIS militants surrounding the base of the mountain and preventing food, water and medicine from reaching the thousands of Yazidi above.
“I’m not in a position to rule things on the table or off the table,” White House spokesperson Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday, though he emphasized that the use of U.S. ground forces was not an option being considered. “There are many problems in Iraq. This one is a particularly acute one, because we’re seeing people persecuted because of their ethnic or religious identities,” Earnest added.
“There are children dying on the mountain, on the roads. There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded. It’s a disaster, a total disaster,” one United Nations official told the Arabic news outlet Al Bawaba.
About 130,000 other Yazidi are reported to have fled the ISIS assault into Kurdish-controlled areas in the north of Iraq.