Britain has suspended humanitarian aid air drops to refugees trapped on a mountainside in Northern Iraq after concluding that the situation was now “better than we had feared”.
On Wednesday, David Cameron described the plight on Mount Sinjar as “desperate,” and said the West needed a plan to get tens of thousands of Yazidis to a place of safety.
But a US team who spent Wednesday night on the mountain found only around 4,500 people there – nearly half of them were herders who lived there before the siege and had no desire to leave. It is understood that Kurdish forces have been assisting around a thousand people to get off the mountain every night.
The episode highlights the limits of Western intelligence about what is going on in Northern Iraq and its ability to respond rapidly to the situation on the ground.
In Washington, President Obama suggested that US air strikes had broken the siege of the mountain and he did not expect to have to launch an evacuation or continue humanitarian air drops.
“We helped vulnerable people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives,” President Obama said. “Because of these efforts we do not expect there to be an additional operation to evacuate people off the mountain and it’s unlikely we are going to need to continue air drops.”
In London, following a meeting of the Government’s emergency committee, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “We will keep the option open if we establish there is further need.
“We will also maintain our Chinook helicopters in the region so we have the flexibility to help the most vulnerable if the need arises, and our Tornados will also stay out there in case we require further surveillance of the area.”
But the spokesperson added: “We have sent a humanitarian adviser to assess the refugee camp at Dahuk and based on that assessment we will consider what more we can do there and more broadly to support the UN, Iraqi and Kurdish efforts.”