U.S. military involvement in Iraq could increase as President Obama considers a rescue mission to help stranded Yazidis escape from Mt. Sinjar to a position safe from terrorist forces.
The White House said Wednesday the U.S. would help the Yazidis in a possible "humanitarian" mission but that Obama would not move off his refusal to deploy combat troops on the ground.
"We’ll look at the best way, the safest way to get those people off that mountain," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said during a press briefing in Martha's Vineyard. "What he’s ruled out is introducing U.S. forces into combat, on the ground, in Iraq."
Rhodes said a team of roughly 130 military advisers are now assessing the situation in Sinjar and would make recommendations to the president in the next few days.
"We haven’t made decisions on how to carry out that mission, because we want to get recommendations from that team first," Rhodes said.
The U.S. mission has thus far been limited to seven airstrikes to stop the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, along with air drops of 100,000 meals and 27,000 gallons of water in Sinjar.
But Rhodes was clear that the humanitarian aid was a short-term response and that the Yazidis needed a way to get to safety.
"We’re getting aid to the people on the mountain while also trying to determine the best means of getting them to a safe place," Rhodes said. "That’s not a permanent solution, just dropping food and water in perpetuity from the air."
Among the possibilities are helicopter airlifts and establishing a protected corridor to escort refugees to safety. While acknowledging that "there are dangers involved in any military situation," Rhodes sought to distinguish a humanitarian rescue mission from deploying combat troops with the aim of "taking the fight to ISIL."
Those dangers were tragically illuminated when an Iraqi helicopter delivering aid to the Yazidis crashed on Tuesday, killing the pilot and injuring others, including a reporter for The New York Times.