The following editorial appeared in Thursday’s Washington Post:
The Obama administration has emphasized that its plan for combating the Islamic State envisions a multiyear struggle, rather than the lightning campaigns of other Mideast wars. That’s partly because President Obama’s objective is to build up local forces that can drive the jihadists out of Iraq and Syria and hold the recaptured territory. While there are advantages to this approach – above all, preventing another deployment of U.S. troops to the region – it also has some big upfront risks.
One can be seen in the plight of the Yazidis, the embattled Iraqi minority community threatened with genocide by the Islamic State. Last summer, the terrorists began overrunning Yazidi villages in northwestern Iraq; they massacred men they captured and abducted women and children, whom they said would be sold into slavery.
It was when the Islamic State forces surrounded the Yazidis’ last stronghold, on Mount Sinjar, that Mr. Obama was moved to begin airstrikes. “When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States cannot turn a blind eye,” he said.
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U.S. bombing in August allowed Yazidi and Kurdish militia forces to lift the siege of Mount Sinjar and open an escape route to Syria. Thousands of the Yazidis fled; most are now encamped in Iraqi Kurdistan. But up to 10,000 people remained on the mountain, including villagers in remote areas and several thousand Yazidi fighters.
They are now again besieged. Beginning in October, Islamic State forces overran five more Yazidi villages and cut the road to the region. With winter coming, supplies in the area are dwindling, and only two helicopters are available to fly in provisions.
Last week a delegation of Yazidi leaders visited Washington to warn White House and State Department officials that the Islamic State may still commit genocide on Mount Sinjar. “The point we are trying to make is that the airstrikes are not sufficient,” Nuri Khalaf Elias, a Yazidi leader from Sinjar, told us.
Kurdish forces, preoccupied with the siege of Kobane further west, are not fighting for the Yazidis, while the Iraqi army is engaged in protecting the approaches to Baghdad further south.
In short, the U.S. strategy is leaving the Yazidis and other vulnerable populations in Iraq and Syria exposed to the Islamic State’s aggression and its unspeakable brutality toward non-Muslims. In addition to those threatened on Mount Sinjar, the Yazidis are anguished about the 4,000 to 5,000 women and girls they say have been abducted and threatened with sexual slavery. Some have reportedly been “sold” in the markets of Mosul and other towns occupied by the jihadists.
Yazidi leaders believe it would be possible to rescue many of the women, some of whom have been in touch on cellphones. They say hundreds are being held together at a former U.S. military base at Tal Afar and in an abandoned Shiite village. A small force might be able to save them from terrible suffering.
The problem is that, under Mr. Obama’s constraints for fighting the war, no such force exists.