Refugees who have managed to reach shelter in Iraq's third-largest city, Erbil, say U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS militants aren't nearly enough. President Barack Obama's promise of no boots on the ground isn't what they want to hear. "Not only plane to bomb from the sky," one of them told NBC News. "We need army."
Erbil, a city of 1.5 million people, has become a refuge for countless members of religious minorities fleeing the Islamic militants, with 4,000 members of the ancient Yazidi sect taking shelter in a single church. Scores of Christian and Yazidi refugees had already sought refuge in Mosul, only to be driven from there when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, captured the city. Those now in Erbil often had to leave family members behind to escape religious persecution at the hands of ISIS militants.
Beyond acting as a makeshift home for Iraq's many refugees, Erbil continues to play a major strategic role for any U.S. operation in Iraq. The U.S. maintains a consulate within the city, as well as 800 military personnel who arrived in Iraq earlier this year to help with security. The city also serves as the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region. Throughout the U.S. involvement in the region, the Kurds have become a major ally and a stabilizing force among the divided ethno-religious factions in Iraq.
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- Thousands of Yazidi Flee ISIS in Iraq and Into Syria
— Keir Simmons and Jacob Passy