The Pentagon moved swiftly to shoot down a New York Times report Thursday afternoon that American military forces had bombed at least two places in northern Iraq targeting fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), as U.S. officials said humanitarian airdrops in northern Iraq had begun.
“Press reports that US has conducted airstrikes in Iraq completely false. No such action taken,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, wrote on Twitter.
The original Times report, which spread quickly through social media and cited Kurdish officials, said U.S. military forces struck at least two targets with the intention of routing ISIS fighters who have created what officials have called an urgent humanitarian situation in northern Iraq. ISIS has trapped tens of thousands of religious minorities on Mount Sinjar who belong to the Yazidi religious sect.
The Wall Street Journal also reported that U.S.-led airstrikes appeared underway. Anwar Haj Othman, deputy head of the Peshmerga ministry, a defence ministry for the Kurdish forces, told the Journal that U.S. jet fighters struck targets in both the Mount Sinjar plains and in a Kurdish area known as Gwair close to the Erbil province. The Journal reported U.S. officials justified any potential strikes with the need to protect dozens of American diplomats and military personnel in the Erbil area.
The Times later clarified its report with the Pentagon’s denial, but said U.S. officials claimed it was “possible that allies of the United States, either the Iraqi or Turkish militaries, had conducted the bombing.” An Iraqi official told CNN that the Iraqi air force had struck ISIS targets near Erbil.
Following the Times’ report, ABC and CNN reported the U.S. has begun humanitarian airdrops in the Sinjar area, which has grown more dire in recent days. The situation has given the trapped Yazidis a near-impossible dilemma — leave and risk being killed by the militants, or stay and hope aid comes their way. UNICEF said that as of Tuesday, about 40 children had already died on the mountain from dehydration and heat exhaustion.
A senior Defence Department official told Business Insider earlier Thursday that the U.S. was considering emergency-relief airdrops of food and medicine to aid the religious minorities. Other reports indicated Obama was considering airstrikes targeting ISIS fighters at the base of the mountain.
“We have been working urgently and directly with officials in Baghdad and Erbil to coordinate Iraqi airdrops to people in need,” the Defence Department official told Business Insider. “The Government of Iraq has initiated air drops in the region, and we are in constant communication with them on how we can help coordinate additional relief, enhance their efforts, and provide direct assistance wherever possible.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday that the White House “strongly condemns” the situation on Mount Sinjar, which he said was “nearing a humanitarian catastrophe.” But he repeatedly declined to comment on any specific options Obama was considering.
“I’m not in a position to shed light about the president’s thinking at this point,” Earnest said.
Earnest reiterated, as Obama has many times throughout the unfolding crisis in Iraq, that any U.S. military action would be limited in scope and would not include any American “boots on the ground.” He also blamed the unfolding situation on a political failure by the Iraqi government to bring different sects together in government.
This post has been updated.
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