US air strikes hit ISIL targets in northern Iraq

U.S. war planes have began a campaign of air strikes targeting ISIL positions around the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.

US air strikes hit ISIL targets in northern Iraq

World Bulletin/News Desk

U.S. military aircraft conducted an airstrike on Friday against ISIL artillery used against Kurdish forces defending the city of Erbil, near U.S. personnel, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

He said the rebels had been using the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil where U.S. personnel are located.

"The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief," he said.

Kirby said the strike occurred at 6:45 a.m. EDT, or 1:45 p.m. in Arbil (1045 GMT).

President Barack Obama said on Thursday he had authorized U.S. air strikes to blunt the onslaught of ISIL militants in northern Iraq and began airdrops of supplies to besieged religious minorities to prevent a "potential act of genocide."

Obama, in his most significant response yet to the crisis, said he approved "targeted" use of air power to protect U.S. personnel if Islamic State militants advance further toward Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq, or threaten Americans anywhere in the country.

He said air strikes, which would be the first carried out by the U.S. military in Iraq since its withdrawal in 2011, could also be used if necessary in support of Iraqi and Kurdish forces trying to break the Islamists' siege of a mountaintop where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped.

"Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, 'There is no one coming to help'," said Obama, who had been reluctant to deepen U.S. military re-engagement in Iraq.

"Well, today America is coming to help."

In late-night remarks televised from the White House to a war-weary American public, Obama insisted he would not commit ground forces and had no intention of letting the United States "get dragged into fighting another war in Iraq."

Obama took action amid international fears of a humanitarian catastrophe engulfing tens of thousands of members of Iraq's minority Yazidi sect driven out of their homes and stranded on Sinjar mountain under threat from rampaging militants of ISIL.

Many Iraqi Christians have also fled for their lives.

"We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide," said Obama, who described the militants as "barbaric."

Obama was responding to urgent appeals from Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to help halt Islamic State's relentless advance across northern Iraq and to deal with the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

However, questions were quickly raised in Washington about whether selective U.S. attacks on militant positions and humanitarian airdrops would be enough to shift the balance on the battlefield against the militants.

"I completely support humanitarian aid as well as the use of air power," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted after Obama's announcement. "However the actions announced tonight will not turn the tide of battle."

BLACK FLAG OVER CHECKPOINT

The reason for U.S. alarm was clear.

Reuters photographs on Thursday showed what appeared to be Islamic State fighters controlling a checkpoint at the border area of the Kurdistan, little over 30 minutes' drive from Arbil, a city of 1.5 million that is headquarters of the Kurdish regional government and many businesses.

The fighters had raised the movement's black flag over the guard post. However, a Kurdish security official denied that the militants were in control of the Khazer checkpoint. The regional government said its forces were advancing and would "defeat the terrorists," urging people to stay calm.

Obama, who has carefully avoided direct involvement in most other recent Middle Eastern crises, made clear that preventing a humanitarian catastrophe and averting the threat to American lives and interests in Kurdistan were ample justification for the use of U.S. military power.

However, seeking to keep some pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Obama insisted on the need for an Iraqi government that "represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis" in order to reverse the militants' momentum.

With the refugees on the mountaintop desperately short of food, water and medicine, U.S. aircraft began dropping emergency aid in the area shortly before Obama spoke on Thursday.

"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.

The Defense Department said U.S. planes dropped 72 bundles of supplies, including 8,000 ready-to-eat meals and thousands of gallons of drinking water for threatened civilians near Sinjar.

It said the planes flew from several air bases in the region and included one C-17 and two C-130 transport planes escorted by two F/A-18 Hornet fighter planes. They were over the drop area for less than 15 minutes, flying at low altitude.

"We intend to stay vigilant and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Arbil and our embassy in Baghdad," Obama said.

The decision on air strikes came after urgent deliberations by a president who won the White House in 2008 on a pledge to disentangle the United States from the long, unpopular Iraq war.

Until this week, most of Kurdistan had been protected by its own armed forces, called the peshmerga. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fleeing, including Christians, Yazidis and others, have taken refuge in the Kurdish area.

INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNATION

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "deeply appalled" by the attacks by Islamic State militants. The U.N. Security Council condemned the group and called on the international community to support the Iraqi government.

French President Francois Hollande's office said after he spoke by telephone with Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani that Paris was prepared to support forces engaged in the defence of Iraqi Kurdistan. It did not say how.

A senior U.S. official said Washington was expediting military assistance to Kurdish peshmerga troops.

Shares in energy companies operating in Iraqi Kurdistan plummeted on news of the sweeping ISIL advance toward oilfields in the region.

BOMBINGS ACROSS IRAQ

Facebook and Twitter were blocked in Kurdistan on Thursday, initially for 24 hours. A government official told Reuters the reason was to prevent militants from gathering any information about the movement of Kurdish forces from social media, and to stop rumours and panic.

The Kurdish Regional government's Ministry of Interior said in a statement that "our victory is close".

The security adviser said many layers of security and a trench protecting the regional capital. "Arbil city is fine," he said.

The militants' weekend capture of Sinjar, ancestral home of the Yazidi minority, prompted tens of thousands of people to flee to surrounding mountains, where they are at risk of starvation.

Thousands of Iraqis, most of the Yazidis, are streaming to the border with neighbouring Turkey to flee the fighting, Turkish officials said.

The plight of fleeing Christians prompted Pope Francis to appeal to world leaders to help end what the Vatican called "the humanitarian tragedy now under way" in northern Iraq.

In Kirkuk, a strategic oil town in the north held by Kurdish forces since government troops melted away in June, 11 people were killed by two car bombs that exploded near a Shi'ite mosque holding displaced people, security and medical sources said.

In Baghdad, a bomber blew himself up in a Shi'ite district, killing at least six people, police said. Earlier, a car bomb in another Shi'ite area of the capital killed 14.

The Islamic State clashed with Kurdish forces on Wednesday in the town of Makhmur, about 60 km (40 miles) southwest of Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous zone.

Witnesses said the militants had seized Makhmur, but Kurdish officials told local media their forces remained in control there, and television channels broadcast footage of Kurdish peshmerga fighters driving around the town.

The mainly Christian town of Tilkaif, as well as Al Kwair, were overrun by militants, according to witnesses.

Maliki, who has ruled in a caretaker capacity since an inconclusive election in April, has defied calls by Sunnis, Kurds, some fellow Shi'ites and regional power broker Iran to give up his bid for a third term for the sake of Iraq's unity.

Iraq's National Alliance, a bloc compromising the biggest Shi'ite parties, is close to nominating a "nationally acceptable" figure to become prime minister, its spokesman said, suggesting Maliki would not be able to hold on.

Political deadlock over forming a new government has undermined efforts to confront the Sunni insurgents, who have threatened to march on Baghdad.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Ağustos 2014, 16:27

Muhammed Öylek

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