British Prime Minister David Cameron has welcomed US President Barack Obama's decision to authorize airstrikes against Islamic militants in Iraq “to protect American personnel,” but has ruled out the use of British military force in the country.
The PM said the world must protect religious minorities “in their hour of desperate need,” as militants forced Iraq’s Yazidi Christians from their homes. The government is considering ways to offer help short of military intervention.
Islamic State (IS) militants have seized Iraq’s biggest Christian town, Qaraqosh. The Yazidis face starvation and dehydration if they remain stranded on Mount Sinjar, and slaughter at the hands of the militants if they move, warn officials. US troops have already made humanitarian air drops in areas threatened by IS.
“I welcome president Obama's decision to accept the Iraqi government's request for help and to conduct targeted US airstrikes, if necessary, to help Iraqi forces as they fight back against ISIL [IS] terrorists to free the civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar,” said Cameron in a Friday morning statement.
“And I fully agree with the president that we should stand up for the values we believe in - the right to freedom and dignity, whatever your religious beliefs.”
While a Downing Street spokeswoman said the UK was “not planning a military intervention,” Cameron said he had tasked officials to establish urgently what more the UK could do “to provide help to those affected, including those in grave need of food, water and shelter in the Sinjar area.”
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the UK Government has decided to assist the US with the humanitarian effort in Iraq.
“We are [also] offering aid of our own," Fallon said after an emergency meeting of the Cobra committee.
“We hope to drop [the aid] over the next couple of days in support of the American relief effort, particularly to help the plight of those who after trapped on the mountain.”
The Foreign Office has urged Britons to avoid the Kurdistan region.
Speaking from the White House on Thursday, Obama said the air drops – containing food and water – were approved in order to help save thousands of civilians facing “certain death” from IS militants. He said the Islamic State’s call for the systematic destruction of Christian minorities constituted genocide.
“Today, America is coming to help,” he said, noting that although the United States “cannot and should not” intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world, it must act when innocent people are facing violence on a horrific scale.
Obama said the US is prepared to take “targeted military action” in the form of airstrikes if they are deemed necessary to protect American personnel in Erbil – where a US consulate is located – as well as the embassy in Baghdad. Airstrikes could be used to halt IS convoys if they advance on Erbil.
“I therefore authorized targeted airstrikes if necessary to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege at Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there,” he said. “We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”
Obama also said the US would be working with the United Nations to address the escalating situation in Iraq. However, he cautioned that he “will not allow” the US to be dragged into another war in Iraq, ruling out the possibility of combat troops returning to the country.
The militants have continued to make gains in Iraq recently – reportedly capturing the country’s largest hydroelectric dam near Mosul – and have threatened to kill any minorities who do not convert to their strict interpretation of Islam.