President Barack Obama confirmed Thursday evening in a statement from the White House that the U.S. military had air-dropped humanitarian aid to civilians stranded in Iraq and he had authorised targeted military strikes if U.S. personnel become threatened by ISIS militants.
The president appeared to confirm earlier reports of U.S. air strikes the Pentagon had denied as he opened his speech, although it was not clear he was referring to previous strikes or the possibility of them in the future: “Today I authorised two operations in Iraq; targeted air strikes to protect our American personnel and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death.”
He went on to say later that he authorised targeted air strikes to protect U.S. personnel in the future if militants move on the town of Erbil or the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, where Americans are currently stationed. He also directed the military to provide humanitarian aid to Iraqi civilians.
“At the request of the Iraqi government, we’ve begun operations to help save Iraqi civilians stranded on the ground,” Obama said, referring to the religious sect which has been cut off on top of a mountain to escape ISIS militants.
ABC and CNN previously reported the U.S. had begun humanitarian airdrops in the Sinjar area to the Yazidi religious sect. The trapped civilians were facing a near-impossible choice: Come down the mountain and risk being killed by ISIS militants, or stay and hope aid comes their way.
“The United States cannot turn a blind eye. We can act,” Obama said. “Today America is coming to help.”
According to a senior defence official, U.S. military aircraft had successfully air-dropped critical meals and water for thousands of citizens trapped near Sinjar. The aircraft, under direction of U.S. Central Command, dropped its cargo and “safely exited the immediate airspace over the drop area,” the official said.
The Pentagon said the air-drop mission was conducted from multiple airbases within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Three aircraft in total, escorted by two FA-18s, dropped a total of 72 bundles of supplies, including fresh drinking water and about 8,000 ready-to-eat meals.
“The supply mission did not require any U.S. ground forces,” the Pentagon said.
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