US mulls action as ISIS surrounds mountaintop refuge for minorities

White House warns situation "nearing humanitarian catastrophe," as President Obama weighs military action to protect religious minorities in Iraq.

ISIS fighters (photo credit: REUTERS)
ISIS fighters
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON -- US President Barack Obama is weighing military action to protect religious minorities in Iraq, stranded without basic resources on top of a mountain in the country's north and under imminent threat of death from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, US officials said on Thursday.
Without adequate supplies of food or water, Christians and Yazidis have sought refuge from ISIS forces that are threatening the groups with extermination.
The White House warned on Thursday that the situation was "nearing a humanitarian catastrophe," fearing a ruthless killing spree from ISIS, a group with "callous disregard for human rights."
"We are gravely concerned for their health and safety," White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
Roughly 40,000 Yazidis are stranded on Mount Sinjar, near the Iraqi city of Mosul, according to US government officials. Reports indicate that some of those on the mountain are already dying from the lack of aid, and from the intense summer heat.
"There are many problems in Iraq. This one, that we're talking about right now, is a particularly acute one, in that the stakes are very high," Earnest said. "The humanitarian situation is deeply disturbing there."
Obama met with members of his national security team on Thursday to discuss the situation. The Pentagon has prepared options not only for US strikes against ISIS, but also for aid drops and possible airlifts from the mountain for those under threat of persecution.
"There are no American military solutions to the problems in Iraq," Earnest said, of the general ISIS threat to Baghdad. "American military action in Iraq would not include boots on the ground."
Pope Francis is urging the international community to "protect all those affected" by the looming ISIS onslaught, and to "guarantee all necessary assistance," in a rare direct appeal by the pontiff.