The Iraqi government has asked the U.S. to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced citizens in Northern Iraq, which could include airdrops like this one from a C-17A during a mission last year in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. (Master Sgt. Ben Bloker/Air Force)
The U.S. aircraft conducted humanitarian airdrops in Northern Iraq earlier tonight to provide supplies critical to the survival of thousands of religious minorities surrounded by militants, a senior defense official has confirmed.
“Tonight, at the direction of the commander-in-chief, the U.S. military conducted a humanitarian assistance operation in Northern Iraq to airdrop critical meals and water for thousands of Iraqi citizens threatened by ISIL near Sinjar,” said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the operation. “The mission was conducted by a number of U.S. military aircraft under the direction of U.S. Central Command.”
The official said the aircraft that dropped the humanitarian supplies have departed the immediate airspace over the drop area.
The Iraqi government requested the assistance, and conducted its own airdrops Thursday, a second defense official told Air Force Times.
U.S. officials worked directly with the Iraqi government in Baghdad and Erbil to coordinate the airdrops, he said.
“DoD is in constant contact to enhance the relief efforts and provide assistance,” the official said. “DoD is conducting mission analysis at various levels to determine options for delivering aid.”
Defense Department spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby denied reports Thursday afternoon that the U.S. had conducted airstrikes in Iraq. An Associated Press report said Obama has not made a final decision on whether the U.S. would conduct airstrikes along with the airdrops.
The U.S. Air Force has C-17 and C-130 mobility aircraft in the region, both capable of delivering cargo and troops in austere locations, an Air Force official said. The longer-range C-17s are rotating through bases in the area of responsibility. Outside Afghanistan, they're primarily flying in and out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Air Force C-130s are based at Al Udeid and a second undisclosed location, the Air Force official said.
Tens of thousands of ethnic Kurds have been uprooted by the Islamic State, and dozens who have been cut off from supplies while taking refuge on Mount Sinjar have died of thirst. The Islamic State has taken more territory in northern Iraq and has reportedly threatened members of the Yazidi sect that they would be killed if they do not convert to Islam.
More than 700 U.S. troops are in Iraq, helping to run control centers, protecting the U.S. Embassy and advising Iraqi forces. The Defense Department also is sending munitions to help bolster Iraqi forces, including 466 Hellfire missiles delivered in July for a total of 780 this year, Kirby said last week.
Manned and unmanned aircraft have been flying 50 intelligence sorties per day over Iraq, and a U.S. aircraft carrier is standing by in the Arabian Gulf, Kirby said.
Lukman Faily, Iraqi ambassador to the U.S., gave a speech on July 21 urging the U.S. to immediately “conduct counterterrorism operations” and launch “precision U.S. air attacks” against the Islamic State, adding: “The U.S. should offer air support targeting terrorist camps and supply convoys in remote areas.”