France and Britain will join the US in providing humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of civilians besieged by Islamic militants in Iraq, President Barack Obama said Saturday, while warning US military action in the country could last for months.
After speaking by telephone with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande, Obama told reporters at the White House that "both leaders expressed strong support for actions and agreed to join us in providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqis suffering so much”.
Both Paris and London subsequently confirmed their involvement in the humanitarian effort. A statement from Hollande’s office said France would begin making its first aid drops within “the coming hours”, while British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the first consignment of British aid would arrive “imminently”.
The US began airdrops of water and food to stranded members of the Yazidi religious minority on Friday.
Tens of thousands of Yazidi have been trapped for days on Sinjar mountain in northern Iraq, after fleeing there to avoid persecution from fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS or ISIL), who now call themselves Islamic State.
ISIS, which has conquered vast swathes of Iraqi territory since launching an offensive in June, consider the Yazidi, whose religion blends elements of both Christianity and Islam, to be “devil worshipers” and have threatened them with extermination.
Obama said the US and its allies were also considering how to create a “safe corridor” for the Yazidis to leave the mountain.
Britain’s Hammond later told reporters "We can expect a continuing drumbeat of airdrop operations working in co-ordination with the US and potentially with others as well," Britain’s Hammond later told reporters.
"But more widely we are looking at how to support this group of people and get them off that mountain, how we are going to facilitate their exit from what is a completely unacceptable situation."
The US also began airstrikes against ISIS positions on Friday as the group’s fighters advanced towards the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region, Arbil, to protect American personnel working there.
Those strikes succeeded in destroying arms and equipment that could have been used in an attack on Arbil, Obama said, while warning the US military operation in Iraq could continue for some time.
"I'm not going to give a particular timetable, because as I've said from the start, wherever and whenever US personnel and facilities are threatened, it's my obligation, my responsibility as commander in chief, to make sure they are protected," Obama told reporters, warning that the "long-term project" could take months.
“I don't think we're going to solve this problem in weeks,” he said.
Obama said the United States would continue to provide military assistance and advice to the Baghdad government and Kurdish forces, but stressed repeatedly the importance of Iraq forming its own inclusive government.
“I think this a wake-up call for a lot of Iraqis inside of Baghdad recognising that we’re going to have to rethink how we do business if we’re going to hold our country together,” Obama said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-08-09