NEW: About 130 military U.S. advisers are being dispatched to Iraq, officials say
NEW: The advisers will be made up of Marines and special operations forces
NEW: "This is not a combat boots on the ground operation," defense secretary says
NEW: Residents in Baghdad riot following car bomb explosion, police officials say
The United States is sending more troops to northern Iraq, a move that U.S. officials told CNN on Tuesday is necessary to help in the rescue of tens of thousands of Yazidis trapped in the mountains by extremists who have vowed to kill them.
About 130 Marines and special operations forces have been dispatched to Irbil, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said, adding to the hundreds already in the country advising Iraqi troops in their fight against the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“Very specifically, this is not a combat boots on the ground operation. We are not going to have that kind of operation,” Hagel said during an address at Camp Pendleton, a Marine base in California.
“But short of that, there are some things we can continue to do and we are doing.”
Word of the additional American support came as embattled Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered his troops to stay out of the political battle being waged in Baghdad, where he has vowed to hold on to power.
Al-Maliki has vowed to fight the nomination of Haider al-Abadi, a man who has the support of the United States and Iran. The new Prime Minister-designate is the deputy speaker of the Iraqi Parliament and a former aide to al-Maliki.
The United States hopes the designate will form a government quickly and build a united front against ISIS rebels, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Helicopter crashes during Yazidi rescue
The political turmoil has been playing out against the backdrop of a growing humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands of Iraq’s minority ethnic and religious minorities – Yazidis, Christians, Kurds and others – fleeing ISIS fighters.
Nowhere is the crisis more evident than the Sinjar Mountains, where an estimated 40,000 minority Yazidis are hiding from the Sunni extremist fighters after fleeing their homes.
Yazidis are considered one of the world’s smallest and oldest monotheistic religious minorities, a pre-Islamic sect based in Zoroastrianism that draws from Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism.
An Iraqi helicopter bringing aid to the group crashed after making its food and water drop and picking up roughly two dozen Yazidis.
The pilot died in the crash, but others survived, the Kurdistan Regional Government said. Kurdish rescue crews transported them to safety, bringing the injured to hospitals, the government said.
The military cited “technical failure” in the crash of the MI-17. Fuad Hussein, the Kurdish Regional Government’s chief of staff, told CNN the crash appeared to have been caused by pilot error.
Survivors included a woman who has come to symbolize the struggles of Yazidis. Vian Dakhil, the only Yazidi in Parliament, made a heart-wrenching appeal to the Iraqi government last week for help in stopping the slaughter of her people.
New York Times journalist Alissa Rubin suffered “a concussion, at least one broken wrist and possibly some broken ribs but was conscious,” The Times reported. Freelance photographer Adam Ferguson “said via cellphone text that he suffered a sore jaw and some minor bumps,” the newspaper reported.
Three helicopters are being used by the Iraqi military to reach the desperate Yazidi families who fled to the mountains more than a week ago, Hussein said.
The plight of the Yazidis, coupled with the ISIS assault against Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region, prompted the United States to begin targeted airstrikes against ISIS.