Amerli siege: Britain joins US air drops to help Iraqi town besieged by Isis

Town had been under siege for six weeks, with United Nations warning of a possible massacre if international community did not step in

US Editor

Aircraft from Britain, France and Australia joined the United States over the weekend in dropping humanitarian aid to residents of Amerli as a long siege of the Iraqi town by jihadist fighters was finally broken by Iraqi and Kurdish forces aided by US air strikes.

The co-ordinated campaign that began on Saturday to loosen the grip of fighters from Isis, which calls itself Islamic State, on the mostly Turkmen town and get desperately needed supplies to its population marked a further expansion of American military and humanitarian engagement in the Iraq crisis.

Even so, pressure grew on Sunday on President Barack Obama from members of both political parties in Washington to take bolder steps to contain Isis in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

At a Pentagon briefing, Rear Admiral John Kirby confirmed the air strikes and food drops over Amerli but said any further US action in the area would be limited in scope. The Iraqi army spokesman Lt-Gen Qassim al-Moussawi said the military operation had started at dawn on Sunday and the forces entered the town shortly after midday. He said his forces had suffered “some casualties” and that fighting was still going on to “clear the surrounding villages”.

 

With its mostly Shia Turkmen population, Amerli had dug in in the face of the Isis advance across northern Iraq in July. However, it had been under siege for six weeks and the United Nations had warned of a possible massacre in the making if the international community did not act. The US launched three air strikes to support the weekend offensive. Ending the siege was a “big achievement and an important victory,” Lt‑Gen Moussawi said.

While there has been a widening of US involvement in Iraq, most recently to help government and Kurdish forces to retake the Mosul Dam, concern continues to grow on Capitol Hill that the White House is moving too slowly against Isis, particularly in view of the terror threat it might pose to the US and its allies.

READ MORE: Obama: 'We don't have a strategy to tackle Isis'

“His foreign policy is in absolute free-fall,” Mike Rogers, the Republican congressman who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said yesterday.

“I’m very concerned because we don’t know every single person who has gone and trained and learned how to fight.”

 

Also expressing anxiety was Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. “This is a group of people who are extraordinarily dangerous and they’ll kill with abandon,” she said, adding that she fears Mr Obama has so far been “too cautious” in his approach to dealing with Isis militants.

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