President Obama announced on Thursday that he has authorized the use of airstrikes in Iraq if they are necessary to protect American personnel. He also stated that humanitarian air drops have been made to help besieged religious minorities in the country.
Speaking from the White House, the president said the air drops – containing food and water – were approved in order to help save thousands of civilians facing “certain death” from Islamic State (IS) militants who have them trapped on a nearby mountain.
Obama stated that the Islamic State has called for the systematic destruction of Christian minorities, as well as the Yazidis – an ethnic Kurdish minority in northern Iraq – and that this declaration constitutes genocide.
“Today, America is coming to help,” he said, noting that although the United States “cannot and should not” intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world, it must act when innocent people are facing violence on a horrific scale.
Moving forward, the president said the United States is prepared to take “targeted military action” in the form of airstrikes if they are deemed necessary to protect American personnel in Erbil – where a US consulate is located – as well as the embassy in Baghdad. Additionally, he mentioned that airstrikes could be used to halt Islamic State convoys if they advance towards Erbil.
“I therefore authorized targeted airstrikes if necessary to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege at Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there,” he said. “We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”
“When we face a situation like we do on that mountain, with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help…and when we have the unique capabilities to avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.”
Specifically, the humanitarian aid consisted of 5,300 gallons of drinking water and 8,000 pre-packaged meals, according to the Associated Press. All of these supplies were delivered by one C-17 and two C-130 cargo planes. The aircraft were escorted by two F/A-18 fighter jets, and lingered over the drop area for under 15 minutes.
Obama also said the US would be working with the United Nations to address the escalating situation in Iraq.
However, he cautioned that he “will not allow” the US to be dragged into another war in Iraq. The US president ruled out the use of combat troops returning to the country, emphasizing that there is no military solution to the problem. What Iraq needs, he said, is political reconciliation on the parts of its own citizens.
Richard Becker, an anti-war campaigner with the Answer coalition says that the United States and its allies must take some of the blame for the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“It was the intervention of the United States in Iraq and the US and its partners in Syria, which laid the groundwork for the ISIS organization to develop. In 2010-2011, remember they said they carried out six actions in the whole year,” he said. “They were practically defunct until the United States and its allies supported the armed opposition inside Syria and gave an opportunity to this organization to develop and come back into Iraq,” Becker concluded.
The announcement comes as tens of thousands of Yazidis find themselves trapped on nearby mountains and surrounded by fighters of the Islamic State. The militants have continued to make gains in Iraq recently – reportedly capturing the country’s largest hydroelectric dam near Mosul – and have threatened to kill any minorities who do not convert to their strict interpretation of Islam.
Islamic State forces have also overtaken Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian city. At least 25 percent of the city’s residents have fled the area, fearing they would be killed if they refused to renounce their faith.
U.S. aircraft hit Islamic State artillery in Iraq: Pentagon
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. military aircraft conducted an airstrike on Friday on Islamic State artillery used against Kurdish forces defending the city of Arbil, Iraq, near U.S. personnel, a Pentagon spokesman said.
Two F/A-18 fighter jets dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Arbil, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
He said the Islamic rebels had been using the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Arbil, the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. The United States has a consulate and, since Iraq’s latest security crisis erupted in June, a joint military operations center in Arbil.
“The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief,” Kirby said.
He said the strike occurred at 6:45 a.m. EDT, or 1:45 p.m. in Arbil (1045 GMT). According to military officials, the strike was launched from the U.S. aircraft carrier the USS George H.W. Bush. In June, the Pentagon ordered the ship to the Gulf in preparation for any possible military action in Iraq.
The strike came only hours after U.S. President Barack Obama authorized airstrikes on Iraq late on Thursday to protect Christians and avert “a potential act of genocide” of tens of thousands of members of the ancient Yazidi sect who have taken refuge on a desert mountaintop from Islamic State forces.
The United States has also begun dropping relief supplies to the refugees.
Sunni fighters from the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot bent on establishing a caliphate and eradicating non-believers, have swept through northern Iraq since June. They are now encroaching on Arbil, a major city that is the seat of the Kurdish region’s government, its parliament and, now, temporary home to scores of refugees who have fled other parts of Iraq.
The renewed military action in Iraq is a striking turn 2-1/2 years after Obama pulled all U.S. troops out of Iraq in December 2011, ending the long and bloody U.S. war that began in 2003.
While Obama has insisted the United States would not commit ground troops again, since June he has ordered some 700 soldiers into Iraq to protect diplomatic personnel and facilities and to assess the strengths and weaknesses of Iraq’s military, much of which melted away in the face of the Islamic State advance.
Also in June, the United States relocated some of its staff from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to Arbil, Basra and Amman, Jordan due to fears the Islamic State forces could directly attack the Iraqi capital.
(Writing by Bill Trott and Missy Ryan; Editing by Sandra Maler)
ISIS in Iraq
- US considers ‘military options’ in Iraq to save Yazidis, Christians
- US President Barack Obama is considering military action to help stranded Yazidi Kurds in Iraq who fled territories captured by Islamic State militants.
- Islamic State expands militant campaign into Lebanon
- The Islamic State [IS] has made its first incursion into Lebanon with the group attacking a border town, while the Iraqi government says they will give Kurds air support for the first time, as they are in danger of being overrun by IS in northern Iraq.
- US to sell largest ever Hellfire missile cache to Iraq
- The United States is preparing to sell the Iraqi government 5,000 Hellfire missiles through a proposed $700 million deal intended to equip Baghdad with additional power as militants from the Islamic State continue to wage a campaign across the region.
- Islamic State opens ‘marriage bureau’ for militants – watchdog
- The Islamic State (IS), which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq, has opened an office for registering women willing to marry its militants, a human rights monitoring group reports.
- ISIS ‘beheads scores of Syrian soldiers’ after daring assault on army base (GRAPHIC)
- Jihadist group ISIS published photos of the beheadings of soldiers and officers at a Syrian government base near the eastern city of Raqqa after rebel forces reportedly breached a stronghold that had not been captured since the start of the conflict.
- ISIS militants blow up Prophet Jonas’ tomb in Iraq – video
- The shrine of Jonas – revered by Christians and Muslims alike – has been turned “to dust” near Iraq’s Mosul. Footage of the event was posted online, and witnesses said it took ISIS militants just an hour to stuff the mosque with explosives.
- Rumors of Islamic State ordering female genital mutilation in Mosul fake?
- The story of Sunni militants from the Islamic State ordering all girls and women aged 11 to 46 in the Mosul region to undergo female genital mutilation has gone viral after a UN report on the matter. However, new doubt is being cast on the claims.
- Convert, pay or die: Iraqi Christians flee Mosul after Islamic State ultimatum
- The Islamic State has issued an ultimatum to the Christians in the town of Mosul in northern Iraq, urging them to convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or face death.