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Wed, 13 Aug 2014 21:54:57 +0000
(WASHINGTON) -- United States Marines, special forces and the USAID disaster assistance relief team briefly landed Wednesday on Mt. Sinjar in Iraq, a U.S. official told ABC News.
It was the first time ABC News has learned of any Americans landing on the mountain, where thousands of Yazidis are trapped and facing a humanitarian crisis.
“Today a team of fewer than twenty personnel conducted an assessment of the situation on Mt. Sinjar," a defense official told ABC News. "All personnel have returned safely to Erbil by military air.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on Tuesday that the United States has sent a 130-member military assessment team to Erbil in the autonomous Iraqi province of Kurdistan to determine what further assistance the U.S. can provide to the Yazidis.
Thousands of members of the Yazidi minority group fled to the mountain in order to escape from ISIS in northern Iraq.
The Yazidis, a religious minority in Iraq, have been targeted by the Islamic army for being what they call "devil worshipers" and were threatened with execution if they didn't agree to convert to Islam.
Addressing a group of Marines during a visit to Camp Pendleton in California, Hagel said the team had arrived in northern Iraq “to take a closer look and give a more in-depth assessment of where we can continue to help the Iraqis with what they’re doing and the threats that they are now dealing with."
The new team is in addition to the 40 U.S. military personnel already in Erbil, who for several weeks have been manning a Joint Operations Center with Kurdish military forces.
Hagel said the team would soon provide an assessment to Centcom that would make its way to the Pentagon “very shortly.”
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