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UK ‘prepared to arm Kurd fighters’

Britain is prepared to help ensure Kurdish fighters are armed to counter the threat of Islamic State (IS) jihadists, it has emerged.

Downing Street insisted that yesterday’s Cobra emergency committee meeting resulted in David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and other officials agreeing it was “vital” that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are able to stop the advance of IS.

It is expected the UK would provide weapons and equipment should the Kurdish leadership make a request.

On what equipment would be provided to the Kurds, a No 10 source said: “It is dependent on what the Kurds would need.”

Such a move would follow similar commitments from France, with President Francois Hollande confirming the “imminent delivery of military equipment” to Kurdish forces in a phone call with Iraqi president Fouad Massoum.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond will use a meeting with his European counterparts in Brussels today to press for “better co-ordination of aid and military supplies to Iraq”, according to No 10.

Mr Cameron and Mr Hollande have also signalled that today’s meeting could result in the European Union doing more to provide humanitarian aid to Iraq, as the focus remains on the plight of thousands of refugees who have fled IS militants.

The need for further UK aid drops to refugees trapped on an Iraqi mountainside is under review as it appears there are “adequate supplies”, Downing Street said, as it noted the option would be retained in case further need emerged.

A rescue mission in Iraq involving the UK military is also now less likely after a US special forces operation discovered that thousands of Yazidis on Mount Sinjar had escaped.

The US mission found there were only a few thousand remaining – said to be in the “low thousands” by No 10 – on the mountainside, and that they were in better condition than had been feared.

President Barack Obama claimed the US had broken the Islamic militants’ siege on Sinjar but added air strikes would continue.

Britain will continue to monitor the situation on the mountain with the US and Kurdish forces, No 10 said, with Chinook helicopters and Tornados remaining in the region.

United Nations’ assessments had previously estimated that around 30,000 refugees had been trapped on Sinjar in searing heat.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening said a combination of US air strikes and resistance from Kurdish fighters had helped create an escape route for the refugees, who fled to Sinjar in the face of Islamic State forces.

Ms Greening, who refused to comment on reports that elite British SAS troops were on the ground in Iraq, said an evacuation from Mount Sinjar had not been ruled out but was less likely as a result of the US assessment.

The United Nations has declared the situation in Iraq to be a “level 3 emergency” – the highest rating it gives to crises.

The Department for International Development (DfId) is providing funding for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to provide a month’s worth of water and medicine for 12,000 refugees who escaped from Sinjar and made it to a refugee camp across the Syrian border.

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