Prime Minister David Cameron's office pledged Monday to send a small contingent of Royal Air Force Tornados to Northern Iraq to offer surveillance capability over the siege of a minority group by Islamic militants — a situation described by London as a massive humanitarian disaster.
Cameron's Downing Street office said the aircraft would play a comparable role to that carried out while gathering information in areas hit by flooding in Britain earlier this year.
However, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond stressed earlier in the day that he does not envisage a combat role for British troops in Iraq. The government is also looking at how Britain — alongside others — can get equipment to Kurdish forces so they can better counter Islamic militants and protect the displaced seeking help in Iraqi Kurdistan.
British cargo planes carrying drinking water and tents have dropped some emergency supplies to the Yazidi community, a minority group suffering reported atrocities from Islamic militants in the Sinjar mountains in northern Iraq. But the efforts stalled in the past day because crew members were unable to find a place to drop supplies amid a crush of desperate people.
Other European leaders were also feeling the pressure to respond to the emergency. France called for an urgent meeting of European Union foreign ministers to consider Kurdish requests for arms and an aid airlift to northern Iraq.
The ambassadors of the EU's 28-member nations plan an emergency meeting on the security situation in Iraq, Gaza and Ukraine on Tuesday.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton could call a meeting of higher-level officials if a majority of the ambassadors request it. However, no such decision is expected, an EU official said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.