On Thursday, President Obama authorized U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in northern Iraq, as well as airdrops of humanitarian aid for thousands of Iraqi religious minorities surrounded by militants.
In a statement from the White House, Obama warned that airstrikes would be launched if needed to defend Americans and civilians from ISIS as they advance on the city of Arbil.
“Today America is coming to help,” he declared.
On Friday, Obama kept his word. Warplanes struck Iraq, attacking Islamist fighters advancing towards the Kurdish region.
The fighters had advanced to within a half hour’s drive of Arbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region and a hub for U.S. oil companies. A Pentagon spokesman said two F/A-18 aircraft dropped laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece used by Islamic State fighters to shell Kurdish forces defending Arbil.
According to the Associated Press, the escalation of U.S. involvement is the deepest American engagement in Iraq since U.S. troops withdrew in late 2011 after nearly a decade of war.
Obama said the humanitarian airdrops were made at the request of the Iraqi government. The food and water supplies were delivered to the tens of thousands of Yazidis trapped on a mountain without food and water. The Yazidis, who follow an ancient religion with ties to Zoroastrianism, fled their homes after the Islamic State group issued an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a religious fine, flee their homes or face death
Mindful of the public’s aversion to another lengthy war, Obama acknowledged that the prospect of a new round of U.S. military action would be a cause for concern among many Americans. He vowed anew not to put American combat troops back on the ground in Iraq and said there was no U.S. military solution to the crisis.
“As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” Obama said.
Even so, he outlined a rationale for airstrikes if the Islamic State militants advance on American troops in the northern city of Irbil and the U.S. consulate there in the Kurdish region of Iraq. The troops were sent to Iraq earlier this year as part of the White House response to the extremist group’s swift movement across the border with Syria and into Iraq.
“When the lives of American citizens are at risk, we will take action,” Obama said. “That’s my responsibility as commander in chief.”
We’ll keep you updated with the latest.