President Obama gave the order for U.S. fighter jets to launch a “targeted” airstrike Friday against Islamic militants in Iraq, and the second wave has just hit. The strikes came only hours after President Obama authorized military action “to protect U.S. personnel and Iraqi civilians.”
Further, hundreds of women from the Yazidi religious minority have been taken captive by the Islamic State (IS), the group formerly known as ISIS, as groups of Iraqi Christian and Yazidi minorities starve on a mountain side outside the city of Sinjar, which was surrounded by terrorists waiting to shoot them as they make their dissent.
The strikes also came after the U.S. conducted humanitarian drops to the Iraqi people on the mountain.
Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday that two F/A-18 jets dropped 500-pound bombs on a piece of artillery and the truck towing it. The Pentagon said the military conducted the strike at 6:45 a.m. ET.
“As the president made clear, the United States military will continue to take direct action against [IS] when they threaten our personnel and facilities,” Kirby said.
According to Pentagon officials, the strike took place near the city of Irbil, after the Islamic State used the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending the city where U.S. personnel are stationed.
Though the president has been deeply opposed to combat operations in Iraq, including the use of U.S. air power, faced with a potential genocide he said America has an obligation to help. However, Obama stressed that combat troops will not be returning to Iraq.
“When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” Obama said. “We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide.”
The airstrikes Friday originated from the USS George H.W. Bush conducting combat patrols in the Persian Gulf.
One senior military official said the latest strike and those that follow are “targets of opportunity,” and that more humanitarian aid drops are on the horizon. After militants were seen firing artillery indiscriminately toward Irbil, U.S. military operators made the decision to strike back.
Even though the military action earned bipartisan support from members of Congress, many continue to urge the administration to put together a more comprehensive strategy with clear goals. Critics say the president waited too long and has outlined too few goal oriented details.
“The president is right to provide humanitarian relief to the Iraqi civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar and to authorize military strikes against ISIS forces that are threatening them, our Kurdish allies, and our own personnel in northern Iraq,” Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement. “However, these actions are far from sufficient to meet the growing threat that ISIS poses. We need a strategic approach, not just a humanitarian one.”
House Speaker John Boehner said the president needed to outline a “long-term strategy,” while Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who has been among the most outspoken lawmakers regarding the plight of religious minorities in Iraq, called the developments a “positive first step,” but said they “can’t be the only steps.”
During Friday’s press conference, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Friday there was no “specific end-date” to the airstrikes, but also stated “what is not contemplated here is the introduction of American troops in a combat role to alleviate this situation.”
For now, the president gave just two justifications for U.S. airstrikes. First, he has authorized strikes “if necessary” to aid the Iraqi operation to end the siege of the civilians on the mountain, and protect the people trapped there. Second, the president said he’s ordered the military to take “targeted strikes” against IS terrorists if their forces make movements toward the city of Irbil, where the U.S. has a consulate and U.S. military advisors are currently training Iraqi forces.
“We intend to stay vigilant and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq,” Obama said.
According to the U.N., between 35,000 and 50,000 fled to nearby Mount Sinjar and other areas, and for the last several days they have been without adequate food and water.
“They’re without food, they’re without water. People are starving, and children are dying of thirst,” Obama said. He said they face a “horrible choice”: descend the mountain face certain slaughter by IS militants, or stay and “slowly die of thirst and hunger.”
The humanitarian aid drop delivered Thursday involved C-130 and C-17 cargo aircraft, which were escorted by F-18 fighters. Pentagon officials said they dropped 72 bundles of supplies, including thousands of gallons of water.
The crisis in Iraq has escalated sharply in recent days, including the seizure Thursday of the country’s largest Christian city, Qaraqoush. The militants told its residents to leave, convert or die, which sent tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area.