Special operations forces sent to Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq have concluded there are far fewer refugees stranded there, making a rescue mission to help them off the mountain less likely, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said.
Hagel made the announcement at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland Wednesday night. NPR's David Welna, who was traveling with Hagel, reports:
"They estimate that about a thousand [Yazidi refugees] have been leaving a day and that only several thousand of them are left on the mountain, and that those who are left there have sufficient provisions to remain there for now. So they seemed to conclude that those who are there will be able to make their way off the mountain without a rescue effort made."
The Yazidis, a religious minority in Iraq, ended up on the mountain after fleeing Sunni extremists loyal to the Islamic State.
The U.S. has been conducting airdrops of food and water, but was considering expanding the humanitarian mission to help more people leave Mount Sinjar safely.
Earlier Wednesday, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said additional advisers sent to northern Iraq were assessing ways to help. But he said a decision hadn't been made about how to do that "because we want to get the readout from this assessment team first."
Hours later, Hagel announced the rescue mission was less likely but that it had not been ruled out completely.
While an evacuation might not happen, the U.S. "will continue to provide humanitarian assistance as needed and will protect U.S. personnel and facilities," according to a statement from the Pentagon press office.
In other updates from Iraq today, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seems to be slipping further from power, with more support voiced for a nominated replacement, Haider al-Abadi.