Britain is planning to send more advisers to an Iraqi town under threat from Islamic State (IS) extremists amid fears of a humanitarian disaster.
As well as stepping up air drops of essential aid to the north of the troubled country, Downing Street said the number of UK personnel in Irbil would be increased to help deal with the developing crisis.
The news came amid reports that IS fighters have slaughtered hundreds of people from the Yazidi minority religious group. Many more have been driven into the barren Sinjar mountains.
However, Kurdish forces have retaken two towns from the Sunni militants, according to a military official.
Kurdish fighters were able to push IS militants out of the villages of Makhmour and al-Gweir.
The retaking of the two towns in Nineveh province is significant because it is the first victory by the Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, that until now have been in retreat.
Radical Sunni fighters seized Mosul in June and then went on to take even more towns, sending tens of thousands of minorities fleeing into the Kurdish-controlled region.
After a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee attended by officials from across Whitehall and agencies, a Number 10 spokesman said yesterday: “The humanitarian situation remains deeply worrying and consequently this continues to be our priority.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced across the region and in need of aid supplies. And thousands are still trapped on Mount Sinjar, although it is understood that some may have escaped off the mountain to the north.
“The first UK aid drop took place over Mount Sinjar last night, with the RAF delivering bundles that included 1,200 reusable water containers providing 6,000 litres in total and 240 solar lanterns that can also be used to recharge mobile phones.
“We are working to step up these deliveries in the coming days. Meanwhile, we continue to engage with the US, Kurds, Turks and other international partners on how to get those trapped on the mountain to safety.
“And we are planning to increase the number of humanitarian advisers in Irbil to provide better links to the situation on the ground.
“We continue to urge Iraqi political leaders to appoint a prime minister who can lead an inclusive government. This is vital to ensure that Iraqis themselves are able to co-ordinate the response across the country against ISIS, uniting all Iraqi communities against these evil terrorists.”
A C130 RAF transport aircraft made the first airdrop of British humanitarian aid to refugees on the Sinjar mountains overnight, with another expected to take place imminently.
The Government announced an £8 million emergency package last week.