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Obama authorizes airstrikes in Iraq to 'protect US personnel'

Published time: August 08, 2014 01:35
Edited time: August 09, 2014 16:33
Reuters / Bogdan Cristel

Reuters / Bogdan Cristel

President Obama announced on Thursday that he has authorized the use of airstrikes in Iraq if they are necessary to protect American personnel. He also stated that humanitarian air drops have been made to help besieged religious minorities in the country.

READ MORE: US considers ‘military options’ in Iraq to save Yazidis, Christians

Speaking from the White House, the president said the air drops – containing food and water – were approved in order to help save thousands of civilians facing “certain death” from Islamic State (IS) militants who have them trapped on a nearby mountain.

Obama stated that the Islamic State has called for the systematic destruction of Christian minorities, as well as the Yazidis – an ethnic Kurdish minority in northern Iraq – and that this declaration constitutes genocide.

“Today, America is coming to help,” he said, noting that although the United States “cannot and should not” intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world, it must act when innocent people are facing violence on a horrific scale.

Moving forward, the president said the United States is prepared to take “targeted military action” in the form of airstrikes if they are deemed necessary to protect American personnel in Erbil – where a US consulate is located – as well as the embassy in Baghdad. Additionally, he mentioned that airstrikes could be used to halt Islamic State convoys if they advance towards Erbil.

"I therefore authorized targeted airstrikes if necessary to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege at Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there," he said. "We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide."

US President Barack Obama.(AFP Photo / Saul Loeb )

“When we face a situation like we do on that mountain, with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help...and when we have the unique capabilities to avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.”

Specifically, the humanitarian aid consisted of 5,300 gallons of drinking water and 8,000 pre-packaged meals, according to the Associated Press. All of these supplies were delivered by one C-17 and two C-130 cargo planes. The aircraft were escorted by two F/A-18 fighter jets, and lingered over the drop area for under 15 minutes.

Obama also said the US would be working with the United Nations to address the escalating situation in Iraq.

However, he cautioned that he “will not allow” the US to be dragged into another war in Iraq. The US president ruled out the use of combat troops returning to the country, emphasizing that there is no military solution to the problem. What Iraq needs, he said, is political reconciliation on the parts of its own citizens.

Richard Becker, an anti-war campaigner with the Answer coalition says that the United States and its allies must take some of the blame for the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

"It was the intervention of the United States in Iraq and the US and its partners in Syria, which laid the groundwork for the ISIS organization to develop. In 2010-2011, remember they said they carried out six actions in the whole year," he said. "They were practically defunct until the United States and its allies supported the armed opposition inside Syria and gave an opportunity to this organization to develop and come back into Iraq," Becker concluded.

The announcement comes as tens of thousands of Yazidis find themselves trapped on nearby mountains and surrounded by fighters of the Islamic State. The militants have continued to make gains in Iraq recently – reportedly capturing the country’s largest hydroelectric dam near Mosul – and have threatened to kill any minorities who do not convert to their strict interpretation of Islam.

Islamic State forces have also overtaken Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian city. At least 25 percent of the city’s residents have fled the area, fearing they would be killed if they refused to renounce their faith.

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