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By David Lauter, Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials are “closely monitoring” a potential “humanitarian catastrophe” in northern Iraq but will not be sending combat troops back to the country, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday.

Earnest said the United States would cooperate with Iraqi military and Kurdish authorities in the volatile region, but he declined to respond to several questions about whether the United States would consider any military action to protect refugees fleeing advancing Sunni militants.

“I’m not in position to shed light on the president’s thinking” on the subject, Earnest said.

In emphasizing that the U.S. would not send combat troops to Iraq, he said that there are “no American military solutions” to the country’s problems. However, he left open the possibility that President Barack Obama might take other actions to support humanitarian efforts in the region. Those could include airdrops of food or water and airstrikes designed to secure supply routes.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis, mostly from the Yazidi religious minority and Christian groups in northern Iraq, have fled in recent days as the Sunni militants from the Islamic State have seized control of towns in northern Iraq.

Many refugees have taken shelter in barren mountains in the area. Kurdish authorities, who control much of northern Iraq, and international aid groups have said that many of the refugees face death from thirst or starvation.

The minority communities have been “specifically targeted” in a “cold and calculated” way, Earnest said. The United States is “deeply concerned” about their condition and has been consulting with the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities about how to help, he said.

AFP Photo/Safin Hamed

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