The New York Times reports: On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama’s national security advisers gathered in a videoconference to discuss options for rescuing tens of thousands of Yazidis starving and besieged by Sunni militants in northern Iraq. But the meeting was upended by a report from Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of the United States Central Command, on the findings of the small team of Marines and Special Operations forces that had just spent 24 hours on Mount Sinjar.
The team had found that there were not tens of thousands of Yazidis on the mountain anymore, only between 4,000 and 5,000. They were no longer starving; many pallets of food and water dropped by the American planes remained unopened. And they were no longer stranded, as Kurdish pesh merga fighters had spent the previous five nights escorting thousands of refugees to safety.
The news took the far-flung advisers who were in the videoconference — including Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Hawaii; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, on a plane over the Rockies; and the national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, who was with the president on Martha’s Vineyard — by surprise. Just hours before, the White House had sent out a top aide with a statement saying that the United States was considering using American ground troops to rescue the Yazidis. [Continue reading…]