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Obama considering air support operation for Iraqi refugees

August 7, 2014 at 6:07 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: As the humanitarian situation grows dimmer by the hour for some in Northern Iraq, the White House is now considering taking military action against Sunni extremists inside the country.

Hari Sreenivasan reports.

JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: Any sort of military action that would be taken in Iraq would be very limited in scope.

HARI SREENIVASAN: That was the official word at the White House, amid reports that President Obama is considering airstrikes against the Islamic State group. Later, the Pentagon quickly denied Kurdish reports that U.S. planes had bombed at least two Islamic State targets after nightfall.

The Sunni extremists have renewed their surge across Northern Iraq, capturing more villages and seizing the country’s largest dam today. Their advance has sent thousands of Christians and Yazidis fleeing in the face of ultimatums to convert to Islam, pay heavy fines or face death.

The Yazidis, who adhere to their own ancient religion, left their town of Sinjar, and many have been trapped in nearby mountains without food.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the situation is nearing a catastrophe.

JOSH EARNEST: The humanitarian situation is deeply disturbing there, and it’s one that we are following closely. That said, it’s important for everyone to understand — and the president’s made this clear — that there are no American military solutions to the problems in Iraq. We can’t solve these problems for them.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, the U.N. has begun sheltering hundreds of Yazidis and others have streamed across the Turkish border. But at least 40 children have already died from dehydration.

ABU SHAKER, Displaced Iraqi Yazidi (through interpreter): What we want is just to rescue these people from the danger zone. We don’t want anything else. We don’t want money, we don’t want cars, we don’t want donations. If they don’t get water and food to those trapped or get them out, it will be a disaster.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The new crisis comes as Iraqi leaders are still deadlocked over who will form a new government.