Two Royal Air Force Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules tactical transports have been deployed to provide aid to displaced Iraqis stranded in the Mount Sinjar region of the country.
The aircraft will deliver aid to people from religious minorities pushed from their homes following the advancement of Iraqi insurgents throughout the country, the UK government announced on 9 August.
“Two RAF C-130s are getting desperately needed aid to those caught up in the violence in Iraq,” says Justine Greening, international development secretary. “This means help from Britain will reach thousands of people trapped on Mount Sinjar.”
Among the supplies being delivered are reusable containers filled with clean water for 2,400 families, as well as 500 solar lanterns that can also be used to recharge mobile phones.
In addition to humanitarian support of the largely Yezidi people stranded on the mountainside, the USA is also conducting air strikes against Islamic State fighters, following President Barack Obama's authorisation on 7 August. The US Navy has fired on Islamic State insurgents using Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has not pledged any offensive assistance in the region as yet, although the nation is actively involved in managing the crisis, alongside international partners.
The UK chaired a United Nations Security Council meeting on the crisis on 7 August, while a Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR) emergency meeting was called by UK defence secretary Michael Fallon on 8 August. Another COBR meeting chaired by foreign secretary Philip Hammond is to take place on the morning of 11 August.
“I have tasked officials to urgently establish what more we can do to provide help to those affected, including those in grave need of food, water and shelter in the Sinjar area,” Cameron said on 8 August. “I welcome President Obama’s decision to accept the Iraqi government’s request for help and to conduct targeted airstrikes, if necessary.
“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.”
The secretaries of defence from the UK and USA have been in discussions, and are pledging to keep up dialogue on the support the nations are providing to Iraq. “Secretary [Chuck] Hagel thanked secretary Fallon for the UK's military contributions to humanitarian relief operations, and pledged to stay in contact with our close ally during this crisis,” a Pentagon statement says.
“Both leaders agreed to keep each other informed about developments and to look for additional ways to co-ordinate military operations.”
Meanwhile, nations actively supporting the Iraqi government are weighing up how much offensive support they should provide to Kurdish forces looking to protect their land within Iraq. The Kurds have their own separatist groups – a concern to the USA, Iran and Turkey – so balancing the support provided is key for these nations.