Report: U.S. airdrops to stranded Yazidis lacked parachutes, exploded on impact

Fun fact, per Michael Warren: The Jonathan Krohn who wrote this piece for the Telegraph appears to be the same Jonathan Krohn who spoke at CPAC five years ago as a 13-year-old conservative firebrand. Five years later, he’s a fellow for a Kurdish media company and eyewitness to ISIS’s most visible atrocity (so far).

Anyway. C’mon, we didn’t really forget to attach parachutes to the food and water we’re dropping, did we?

I was on board an Iraqi Army helicopter, and watched as hundreds of refugees ran towards it to receive one of the few deliveries of aid to make it to the mountain. The helicopter dropped water and food from its open gun bays to them as they waited below. General Ahmed Ithwany, who led the mission, told me: “It is death valley. Up to 70 per cent of them are dead.”

Two American aid flights have also made it to the mountain, where they have dropped off more than 36,000 meals and 7,000 gallons of drinking water to help the refugees, and last night two RAF C-130 transport planes were also on the way.

However, Iraqi officials said that much of the US aid had been “useless” because it was dropped from 15,000ft without parachutes and exploded on impact.

Krohn’s piece was also published today at the Daily Mail. The opening is identical to the opening of the story quoted above but the detail about U.S. aid without parachutes is missing. WaPo’s account of what’s happening on Mount Sinjar also mentions nothing about missing parachutes and exploded aid, but does have this:

Airdrops of food and water — which apparently went awry — were followed by airstrikes, including four on Friday that targeted Islamic State positions around the mountain…

The family took refuge on a barren patch of land, and for the last three days of their ordeal they survived by sharing bottle-cap amounts of water from the last of their meager supplies. Food dropped by U.S. warplanes landed between their sanctuary and the Islamic State positions and could not be reached. For three days, they did not eat.

That’s more plausible. My best guess is that American planes were forced to fly higher than they would have liked for fear of ISIS targeting them from the ground, so that when they released the aid, some of it drifted off course and maybe got smashed apart when wind blew it against the mountain. Veterans are invited to share their own, much better informed theories in the comments or by e-mail. In any case, the point of Krohn’s and WaPo’s pieces isn’t that the delivery was inept, it’s that it was too late. People were already dying in droves; the White House mulled humanitarian relief for days before acting. In fact, it was American airstrikes against ISIS positions around the mountain, not American airdrops, that ended up saving what’s left of the Yazidis. The ones who aren’t too weak to walk now have a path down Sinjar and into Kurdistan. The ones who are too weak to walk are also almost certainly too weak to avail themselves of any new aid that ends up being dropped on the mountain. They’re going to die there.

This also helps explain why Maliki’s coup is good news for the Kurds and Yazidis, though. Until now, the White House has clung to the idea that Iraq should remain unified and that all aid, especially military aid, should go through the central government in Baghdad. That’s one reason why the Kurds are undersupplied; Maliki’s going to siphon off whatever he gets from the U.S. for Shiite use. Now that he’s betrayed Iraqi democracy, though, the White House can cut him loose, refuse to recognize his legitimacy, and deal directly with the Kurds. That means arms (and maybe military advisors?), and that means a Kurdistan that’s secure from ISIS. If Maliki wants southern Iraq to be a Iranian protectorate there’s little we can do to stop him, but we can help build a counterweight in the north. Let’s get on with it.