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Europe pledges aid, equipment to help Iraq

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LONDON (AP) — Europe stepped up support Tuesday for thousands of people fleeing Islamic militant forces in northern Iraq, pledging helicopters, more air drops, money and equipment to ease suffering and bolster fighters battling the Sunni insurgents.

Britain promised to send a small number of Chinook helicopters to the region to use for humanitarian relief options. Prime Minister David Cameron's Downing Street office also said it was taking up urgent planning with the United States and Kurdish leaders on getting those trapped on Mount Sinjar to safety.

France has dropped water, tents and medicine to Yazidis sheltering on the mountain amid fears of an impending humanitarian catastrophe. Militants calling themselves the Islamic State have targeted the Kurdish speakers who practice an ancient Mesopotamian faith, as well as Christians and other minorities.

Britain delivered solar lanterns that can double as mobile phone chargers, and deployed Tornado aircraft to provide surveillance designed to make future air drops more effective.

Britain also fast-tracked 3 million pounds ($5 million) and the European Commission pledged 5 million euros ($7 million) to help aid organizations across northern Iraq. Hungary and Poland also announced more financial assistance.

There were also moves to help local forces fend off the Sunni insurgents. Britain said it had agreed to transport critical military supplies for the Kurdish forces "from other contributing states" so that they can protect the refugees from the militants. It didn't specify what kind of supplies or which states would supply them.

France pressed the European Union to arm outgunned Kurdish fighters, known as Peshmerga, an idea backed by Britain and the Czech Republic. Germany said it planned to send vehicles, night-vision gear and bomb detectors to the Iraqi government, which could then pass them to the Kurds.

"On the one side, this horrible terrorist group of the Islamic State has advanced weapons that they took from the Iraqi army on the way, and on the other side are the Peshmerga, who are extremely brave but don't have the same resources," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Info radio on Tuesday. "We could stand by and say, 'There's nothing we can do,' but that is not our position."

Ian Keddie, an armed forces analyst for IHS Jane's, said Kurds were the main source of resistance to the militants in light of the Iraqi army's collapse.

"They are very organized and very capable," he said. "If you can support them, it will give you a resistance in the region — as well as trucks on the ground to deliver the aid."

Amid reports of atrocities and claims of genocide, pressure is increasing for Europe to do more, but agreement on anything beyond immediate humanitarian help is proving elusive.

Gen. Richard Shirreff, who served as NATO's deputy supreme allied commander in Europe, accused Cameron's government of being "commitment-phobic."

"The longer we sit on our hands and prevaricate, the more dangerous the situation is going to become," The Times newspaper in London quoted him as saying.

The EU, however, is unlikely to take initiatives beyond humanitarian assistance without a mandate from the U.N. Security Council. While there is sympathy for the Yazidis, there's a sense among European leaders that the U.S. should sort out the troubles of Iraq because of its past involvement there. The United States has carried out air strikes against some insurgent positions and has begun funneling arms to the Kurds.

An emergency meeting of ambassadors from the EU's 28 nations on Tuesday welcomed the efforts by the U.S. and its partners to stop the IS group's advance and facilitate access for humanitarian aid. Kurdish requests for military support should be considered "in close coordination with the Iraqi authorities" and international partners, the ambassadors said in a joint statement.

"The Americans bear a special responsibility in the region because everything we're experiencing there right now didn't just fall out of the sky," German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said. "I think it's appropriate for the Americans to meet their responsibilities there."

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Jordans reported from Berlin; Lori Hinnant in Paris, Juergen Baetz in Brussels, Pablo Gorondi in Budapest and Vanessa Gera in Warsaw contributed to this story.

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