President Barack Obama has approved air drops of food and water on a mountain in northern Iraq where a religious minority group remains trapped by Islamic militants, CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports.
The president is also considering using airstrikes to help break the siege by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which has advanced into the Kurdish region of Iraq and seized the country's largest dam Thursday.
ISIS has targeted religious minorities including Christians and the Yazidi, a religious group with ties to Zoroastrianism. An estimated 15,000 of them are caught on a mountaintop near Sinjar with no food or water, but afraid to descend into ISIS-held territory where they might be killed.
The decision to deploy U.S. air power represents a significant escalation of America's involvement in the bloody civil conflict. As ISIS gathered strength over the last few months, the U.S. stepped up its nonlethal assistance to the Iraqi government. And at the end of June, Mr. Obama sent approximately 300 troops to Iraq to train and advise Iraq's army, though they were not to be deployed in combat. An additional 450 U.S. personnel followed shortly thereafter.
But he has pledged several times that the U.S. will not send combat troops to Iraq.
The arrival of those advisers marked the first time U.S. troops touched Iraqi soil since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces following America's eight-year war there.
Policymakers in the U.S. have split on how to manage the escalating crisis. Many Republicans, led by hawkish stalwarts like Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have pushed for greater U.S. involvement, including airstrikes. Democrats, by contrast, have preached caution, saying the United States shouldn't involve itself in Iraq's civil war just a few years after American troops finally departed the country.