President Obama announced Thursday evening from the White House that he has authorized “targeted airstrikes” against the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) in Iraq, but only to protect American personnel. This comes on the heels of reports of an escalating humanitarian crisis as IS has seized control of large swaths of the northern part of the country and reports of genocide against ethnic minorities.
The Islamic State (IS) currently has control of major Kurdish control cities in northern Iraq such as Mosul and Sinjar. The U.S. has an embassy and other staffers in the city of Erbil, which is located southeast of Mosul.
Military support is limited to airstrikes, however. As Obama stated, “As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be drawn into fighting another war in Iraq.”
Meanwhile, up to 50,000 Yazidi ethnic minorities fleeing from the Islamist fighters are stranded in and around Mount Sinjar without food or water. Humanitarian aid air drops began Thursday to bring up to 8,000 meals ready to eat and 5,300 gallons water, according to a U.S. Central Command statement via ABC News. The airdrops were performed by American C-130 and C-17 cargo aircraft escorted by F-18 fighter jets.
Shocking photo shows Yazidi children close to death on Iraqi mountain pic.twitter.com/eiMK2y8jgo Via David Jack
— PzFeed Top News (@PzFeed) August 8, 2014
“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.
It’s not just the Yazidi that are attempting to flee the Islamic State. The Guardian reports that Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, was abandoned Thursday after facing the choice between converting to Islam or being killed. Other Christian towns such as Tel Askof, Tel Keif, and Qaramless have also been abandoned as IS presses southeast towards Erbil. Christian churches have reported been burned to the ground.
There were reports by Kurdish TV earlier Thursday of airstrikes against IS positions in Iraq near Erbil, according to the New York Times. The reports initially suggested that the airstrikes were carried about by U.S. forces, however the Pentagon strongly denied the strikes.
Press reports that US has conducted airstrikes in Iraq completely false. No such action taken. — Rear Adm. John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec) August 7, 2014
Turkey also reportedly has fighter jets in the air above Iraq, but there is no word on whether they are the ones that participated in the airstrikes.
Turkish F16’s are reportedly also flying above ISIS-occupied territory, supposedly to monitor what’s going on. – Bloomberg — PzFeed Top News (@PzFeed) August 7, 2014
However, there were later claims that the airstrikes were performed by the Iraqi Air Force, and not the U.S. or Turkey.
Iraqi air force carried out attacks against ISIS targets near Irbit, not U.S. military, Iraqi official tells CNN
— PzFeed Top News (@PzFeed) August 7, 2014
IS is reportedly minutes from Erbil, so the tense situation could explode overnight with U.S. personnel in the city.
Is dropping humanitarian aid to Iraqi refugees fleeing the Islamic State enough? Or should the United States and its allies commit forces in the air or the ground to save lives?
[Image via Mustafa Kerim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]