BRITAIN is planning to send more advisers to an Iraqi town under threat from Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS) extremists amid fears of an humanitarian disaster.
As well as stepping up air drops of essential aid to the north of the troubled country, Downing Street said yesterday the number of UK personnel in Irbil would be increased to help deal with the developing crisis.
The news came amid reports that IS fighters have slaughtered hundreds of people from the Yazidi minority religious group. Many more have been driven into the barren Sinjar mountains.
After a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee attended by officials from across Whitehall and agencies, a Downing Street spokesman said: “The humanitarian situation remains deeply worrying and this continues to be our priority.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced across the region and in need of aid supplies. And thousands are still trapped on Mount Sinjar, although it is understood that some may have escaped off the mountain to the north.
“The first UK aid drop took place over Mount Sinjar last night, with the RAF delivering bundles that included 1,200 reusable water containers providing 6,000 litres in total and 240 solar lanterns that can also be used to recharge mobile phones.
“We are working to step up these deliveries in the coming days. Meanwhile, we continue to engage with the US, Kurds, Turks and other international partners on how to get those trapped on the mountain to safety. And we are planning to increase the number of humanitarian advisers in Irbil to provide better links to the situation on the ground.
“We continue to urge Iraqi political leaders to appoint a prime minister who can lead an inclusive government. This is vital to ensure that Iraqis are able to co-ordinate the response across the country against IS, uniting all Iraqi communities against these evil terrorists.”
A C130 RAF transport aircraft made the first air drop of British humanitarian aid to refugees on the Sinjar mountains overnight, with another expected to take place imminently.
The US has begun air strikes against Islamic State extremist targets engaging Kurdish forces near the key city of Irbil, but Britain has ruled out military action at this stage.
A new round of air strikes by US fighter jets and unmanned drones targeted Islamic militants in Iraq yesterday. The US Defence Department said the strikes destroyed armed vehicles, including one that was firing on Kurdish forces in the approaches to Irbil, and a mortar position. It was the fourth round of air strikes against Islamic State forces by the US military since they were authorised by US president Barack Obama.
UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: “The world has been shocked by the plight of the Yazidi community.
“They face appalling conditions, cut off on Mount Sinjar after fleeing persecution by IS extremists. The UK has acted swiftly to get life-saving help to those affected. Last night the RAF successfully dropped life-saving UK aid supplies, including clean water and filtration devices, on the mountain.”
The UK government announced an £8 million emergency package last week, £3 million of which will go to charities and NGOs already on the ground and helping displaced people in northern Iraq, and £2.5 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Barack Obama discussed the air drops in a phone call on Saturday, but said that a “long term solution” would be needed to quell the IS advance.
Meanwhile, Kurdish forces retook the villages of Makhmour and al-Gweir from the Sunni militants from the Islamic State group. The retaking of the two towns in Nineveh province is significant because it is the first victory by the Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, that until now have been in retreat.