Time: How the Pentagon Would Save the Stranded Refugees in Northern Iraq
No one knows how many Yazidis are trapped by Islamic militants in the Sinjar mountain range in northwestern Iraq. Some estimate they total 35,000. And there are questions about whether or not a land corridor can be cleared to rescue them—or adequate landing zones found for an airborne exodus before they die for lack of food and water.
But there are no doubts about one point: the U.S. military is the best-outfitted and trained force in the world capable of leading such an effort. That’s why the U.S. military dispatched 130 more advisers to northern Iraq on Tuesday to draft just such a plan.
Clearly there are only two ways out of an encirclement, you either bust through, or you go over or under. And just as clearly tunneling isn't an option, so let's look at a potential airlift operation. As the article makes clear, mathematically, this doesn't look all that promising.
Britain said Tuesday it was dispatching several CH-47 Chinook helicopters to the region, and the U.S. is expected to follow suit. The distinctive twin-rotor choppers have a range of 450 miles, and some models can carry up to 55 people. But with up to 35,000 refugees needing to be rescued, that adds up to a lot of flights over a lot of days.
Simple math shows that is over 600 flights. That said, I think you can fit more than 55 people in a Chinook if it really came down to it. Some of the trapped are children, and likely no one is particuraly obese. But even yesterday a helicopter crashed trying to ferry people out, and that was just (apparently) from environmental stuff, not bad guys shooting.
And the other option?
Without U.S. boots on the ground, that means any land-rescue effort would probably require at least some non-U.S. military ground forces to keep the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) away from the rescue operation while it takes place. U.S. airstrikes in recent days have kept ISIS forces at bay, but a massive rescue operation is likely to require ground forces.
Clearly everyone is fairly eager to avoid the optics of US Ground personnel, the much vaunted elephant of "Boots on Ground." But the Pesh aren't going to be able to do it on their own. My guess is anything along these lines would have to require SF or MARSOC guys doing close air support and communications while the Peshmerga provide the bulk of the fighting forces.
But with 130 people? And where is the air support coming from? Do we have enough air assets in place to pull this off? Or would we use the Iraqi air assets?
This is all kinds of bad, no doubt about it. I still have faith in the Peshmerga, I think pound for pound they are the best fighting forces from outside the US not named "Ghurkas". But even the bravest, fiercest units can't do much without controlling the air or having artillery. I suspect a lot of the "Pesh" will have long beards and hidden dogtags underneath, while haling from non-Kurd areas like Fayetteville, NC.