Obama to Iraq: 'America Is Coming to Help'

Damage to homes in Tikrit due to clashes between ISIL and Iraqi security forces. Damage to homes in Tikrit due to clashes between ISIL and Iraqi security forces. AP Photo

The United States has authorized the use of targeted military airstrikes and carried out a humanitarian operation in northern Iraq, President Obama said Thursday night. 

The aid mission dropped by aircraft 5,300 gallons of fresh drinking water and 8,000 meals ready-to-eat to thousands of Iraqis who have been stranded atop a mountain, driven there by attacks from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

Obama said he directed U.S. forces to "take targeted strikes" against ISIS to prevent the terrorist group from advancing in the Iraqi city of Erbil and threatening U.S. personnel there. "We plan to stand vigilant and take action if they threaten our facilities anywhere in Iraq, including the consulate in Erbil and embassy in Baghdad," the president said in a late-night statement.

The United States, he said, won't keep the refugees waiting either. "Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, 'There is no one coming to help,' " Obama said. "Well, today America is coming to help."

Senior administration officials said Thursday night that no airstrikes have been carried out. "This is going to be a very long-term effort against" ISIS, one said.

In his remarks, Obama said the United States will also provide "urgent assistance" to the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces in their fight against ISIS.

He added: "We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide."

Obama addressed a war-weary America directly. "I know that many of you are rightly concerned about any American military action in Iraq, even limited strikes like these," he said. Therefore, he continued, "as commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq, so as we support Iraqis as they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq."

Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement Thursday night that ISIS's mission "bear[s] all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide." "For anyone who needed a wake-up call, this is it," he said.

Before the president's statement, White House officials made the rounds by phone, informing members of Congress about their plans on the crisis, according to CNN.

Earlier, a New York Times report, which cited Kurdish officials, said American military forces launched airstrikes on at least two ISIS-related targets Thursday night. The Pentagon denied any such action.

McClatchy, citing a resident of the city of Kalak, reported an air attack Thursday near the Kurdish capital of Erbil that is currently controlled by ISIS. The publication did not draw a connection to the airstrikes reported by The Times.

About 40,000 Iraqi Yazidis—adherents of a religion that blends Islam, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism—have been trapped on a mountaintop in northern Iraq by ISIS forces since Monday. More than a dozen have already died of dehydration.

A top Kurdish commander implored the U.S. to intervene Thursday. "The Americans keep saying they will help us," he said. "Well, if they plan to help they had better do it now."

On CNN Thursday night, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of ISIS: "If you believe these people are a threat to our homeland, which I do, there's no way to deal with them without American airpower."

The senator warned of what could come later if the United States doesn't act now. "If we do not contain this now and hit them using airpower, this goes on six months and they go into Lebanon and then Jordan, you're probably going to have to have boots on the ground," Graham said. "Nobody wants that."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., joined Graham in a statement after Obama's remarks Thursday night, in which he called for a more comprehensive White House strategy. "This should include the provision of military and other assistance to our Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian partners who are fighting ISIS," McCain said. "It should include U.S. air strikes against ISIS leaders, forces, and positions both in Iraq and Syria. It should include support to Sunni Iraqis who seek to resist ISIS."

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