Obama authorizes limited airstrikes to protect US personnel in Irbil
President Barack Obama has authorized the US military to launch limited airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State, under two conditions: to halt a potential Islamic State advance on Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan that hosts a US Consulate and military advisers; or in support of humanitarian operations to help Iraqis on Mount Sinjar. Obama was clear that the military could launch airstrikes only under those specific conditions, and that the US military would not act as an offensive air force for the Iraqi military or the Kurdish Peshmerga, nor would it send in ground troops to fight the Islamic State.
"Today I authorized two operations in Iraq: targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians trapped on a mountain without food, water, and facing almost certain death," Obama said, speaking this evening at the White House.
"To stop the advance on Irbil, I directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL [Islamic State] terrorist convoys should they move towards the city" and threaten US personnel there or "anywhere in Iraq." The Iraqi government has approved the US' potential use of force, he said.
Obama was clear that US ground troops will not engage in fighting against the Islamic State.
"I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq," Obama said. "I ran for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home."
"American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq," he continued.
Obama said the US should respond "to help avert a massacre" when able to do so.
"Therefore I authorized targeted airstrikes if necessary to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege on Mount Sinjar," he said.
Obama's statement took place just hours after Kurdish officials claimed that the US had launched airstrikes against the Islamic State in northern Iraq. The US Department of Defense denied the rumors.
The Islamic State has made significant advances in northern Iraq during the past week. Over the weekend, the Islamic State seized the city of Sinjar, just west of Mosul, which sparked the exodus of the persecuted Yazidi minority. Tens of thousands of Iraqis fled to Mount Sinjar to escape the Islamic State's advance.
And within the past several days, the Islamic State took control of the Christian town of Qaraqosh, as well as Bartella and Karamlesh east of Mosul, putting Islamic State fighters just 20 miles west of Irbil. Also, the town of Tal Kayf, north of Mosul, fell under the terror group's control. The Mosul Dam is also said to be occupied by the Islamic State.
Until recently, each of these areas were under the protection of the Peshmerga, the Kurdish Defense Forces that stood up to Saddam Hussein with the help of the US Air Force for more than a decade before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. But the Peshmerga left most of the cities and towns without putting up a fight.