WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said he authorized airstrikes against militants in Iraq if they threaten U.S. personnel and dispatched planes to drop food and water for trapped civilians.
Obama said the U.S. will strike Islamic State militants if they move toward the Kurdish city of Erbil, where the U.S. has diplomatic personnel.
U.S. aircraft today dropped supplies to Iraqis threatened by fighters from the Islamic State extremist group near Sinjar, a city close the border of Syria. All of the planes safely left the airspace.
The U.S. has “unique capabilities to help avert a massacre” and “cannot turn a blind eye,” Obama said in remarks tonight at the White House. He repeated that the U.S. has no plan to send ground troops to Iraq.
The U.S. is escalating its involvement in Iraq in response to a growing humanitarian crisis involving religious and ethnic minorities in northern Iraq who have been under siege by the Islamic State, the extremist Sunni group that threatens the government in Baghdad.
The latest American intervention was precipitated by the plight of about 50,000 people, half of them children, who have been stranded in mountainous territory after militant advances at Sinjar, near the Syrian border. The people are Yezidis, an ethno-religious minority whose faith includes features of the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, making them apostates in the eyes of Islamic State.
Several predominantly Christian villages and towns, including Qaraqosh, fell into the hands of the militants.