United States airstrikes slammed ISIS militants south of Baghdad on Monday, in what the Defense Department is calling the first action in the newly expanded campaign to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic terror group that seized large swaths of Iraqi territory in June — and that has now beheaded three Western hostages, displaying its murderous handiwork in three gruesome online videos that have horrified the world.
While U.S. aerial forces have pounded ISIS positions since August 8, Monday's attack on ISIS fighters in an area southwest of the Iraqi capital city was requested by Iraqi forces on the ground who were locked in a battle with the fanatical Islamic militants.
The attack marked the first time the U.S. has gone on the offensive against ISIS, defense officials told NBC News. Previous airstrikes have been authorized to protect U.S. interests or to prevent a humanitarian disaster.
Those earlier strikes were aimed at rolling back ISIS advances and helping Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces reclaim key strategic positions such as the Mosul Dam from the militants.
ISIS militants were not attempting to advance on Baghdad when the U.S. airstrikes bombarded their position, the defense officials told NBC. Instead, the militants had opened fire on Iraqi forces confronting them.
Other airstrikes were aimed at allowing Yazidi refugees, members of a small but ancient religious sect, to escape the Mount Sinjar region in northern Iraq, where ISIS militants had thousands of them trapped with plans to kill them all.
U.S. air power hit Mount Sinjar again on Monday, defense sources said.
In a key speech last week, U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the ISIS organization, to which he referred by its alternate name, ISIL. The group now calls itself Islamic State.
Obama said he planned to authorize airstrikes against ISIS strongholds inside Syria as well, but so far, there has been no report of U.S. airpower being unleashed in that civil war-torn country.
At high-level meetings in Paris Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with top officials from 20 countries to enlist their support in a coalition against ISIS.
As of Monday evening, there was no public report of how many deaths or how much damage resulted from the U.S. airstrike against ISIS south of Baghdad.
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