President Barack Obama on Friday authorised a two-pronged military intervention in Iraq, aimed both at protecting American personnel and assets located in the conflict zones, and also at staving off “a potential act of genocide,” in the Sinjar area where nearly 50,000 members of the Yazidi minority community were trapped atop a mountain besieged by IS fighters, according to United Nations figures.
Mr. Obama said Washington had begun conducting humanitarian airdrops at the request of the Iraqi government, adding, “Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, ‘There is no one coming to help.’ Well today, America is coming to help.”
Secretary of State John Kerry similarly said that the U.S. was “acting and leading,” in the face of IS’s campaign of terror against Yezedi and Christian minorities, and he underscored that the IS “is not fighting on behalf of Sunnis… [but] to divide and destroy Iraq… offering nothing to anyone except chaos, nihilism, and ruthless thuggery.”
Ahead of the airstrikes, the first direct military action by the U.S. in Iraq since troops pulled out in 2011, which Admiral Kirby said were authorised by the U.S. Central Command commander, the U.S. also used one C-17 and two C-130 aircrafts to airdrop 5,300 gallons of fresh drinking water and 8,000 ready-to-eat meals near Mount Sinjar.
A senior administration official said to media here that the aircrafts were flying at a low altitude over the drop area for less than 15 minutes, but a pair of F-18 jet fighters in any case escorted them through the area. He added that there might be additional airdrops going forward because “We expect that need to continue.”
Meanwhile America's Federal Aviation Authority banned all U.S. airlines from flying over Iraq “due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict.” Although IS is not thought to possess weapons capable of bringing down commercial airliners, low-flying aircraft may be susceptible to machine-gun fire in the region.
Iraqis welcome airlift
Iraqis on Friday welcomed the U.S. airlift of emergency aid to thousands of people who fled to the mountains to escape Islamic extremists and called for greater intervention. In contrast to Washington’s decision to invade Iraq more than a decade ago, both the airdrop and the authorisation of military action against the Islamic State group were widely welcomed by Iraqi and Kurdish officials fearful of the militants’ lightning advance across the country.
“We thank Barack Obama,” said Khalid Jamal Alber, from the Religious Affairs Ministry in the semi-autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq.