The US has begun air strikes on Islamic militants in Iraq, the Pentagon said Friday, a day after President Barack Obama authorised an aerial bombing campaign on jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS or ISIL).
The Pentagon said two US fighter jets dropped bombs on ISIS artillery being used against Kurdish forces near the city of Arbil, where US personnel are located.
Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near the city, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
Kirby said the strike occurred at 1:45pm in Arbil (1045 GMT).
“The decision to strike was made by the US Central Command commander under authorisation granted him by the commander in chief,” he said.
Two more strikes were carried out later in the evening, also against targets near Arbil, including a drone strike on a mortar position and an attack by four F/A-18 jets on a convoy and a mortar position, a Pentagon statement announced.
Pentagon says "terrorists were successfully eliminated" after drone strike.
‘Today, America is coming to help’
Obama authorised airstrikes on Thursday to protect Christians being targeted by the Islamic militants and prevent the “genocide” of tens of thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority sheltering on a desert mountaintop from ISIS fighters threatening to exterminate them.
“Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, ‘There is no one coming to help’,” said Obama in a late night television address to the nation on Thursday. “Well, today America is coming to help.
“We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide,” Obama said, speaking after talks with his national security team.
Obama said he had "authorised targeted air strikes, if necessary, to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege and protect the civilians trapped there".
On Friday the White House said the strikes, the first by the US on Iraq since it pulled its troops out of the country in 2011 would last as long as the security situation required.
ISIS was defiant, however. A fighter told Reuters by telephone the US air strikes would have “no impact on us”.
“The planes attack positions they think are strategic, but this is not how we operate. We are trained for guerrilla street war,” he said. “God is with us and our promise is heaven. When we are promised heaven, do you think death will stop us?”
ISIS, an al Qaeda offshoot rejected as too extreme by Osama bin Laden’s successors which has recently renamed itself the Islamic State, has swept through northern Iraq since June. Their advance has dramatically accelerated in the past week when they routed Kurdish troops near the Kurdish autonomous region in the north
ISIS fighters, who have beheaded and crucified captives in their drive to eradicate unbelievers, are now within a half hour’s drive of Arbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region and a hub for US oil companies.
They have also seized control of Iraq’s biggest dam, Kurdish authorities confirmed on Friday, which could allow them to flood cities and cut off vital water and electricity supplies.
Water, food air drops for stranded Yazidis
Attention though has focused on the plight of Yazidis, Christians and other minority groups in northern Iraq, which has been one of the most diverse parts of the Middle East for centuries.
“The stakes for Iraq’s future can also not be clearer,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday. ISIS’s “campaign of terror against the innocent, including the Christian minority, and its grotesque targeted acts of violence show all the warning signs of genocide.”
As well as air strikes, US forces have also begun air-dropping water and food supplies to the stranded Yazidi civilians.
The US Defence Department said planes dropped 72 bundles of supplies, including 8,000 ready-to-eat meals and thousands of gallons of drinking water for the threatened Yazidis, ethnic Kurds who practice an ancient faith related to Zoroastrianism.
The Islamic State considers them to be “devil worshippers”. After fighters ordered them to leave, convert or die, most fled their towns and villages to camp out on Sinjar mountain, an arid peak where they believe Noah settled after the biblical flood.
Kurds find themselves on the front line
Meanwhile, in Arbil, suddenly near the front line for the first time after a decade of war, defiant residents said they were stockpiling weapons and prepared to defend the city.
“People with children took them to their families (outside Arbil), but the men have stayed,” said Abu Blind, 44, working at a tea stall in Arbil bazaar. “They will have to trample over our dead bodies to reach Arbil.”
The Kurdish region has until now been the only part of Iraq to survive the past decade of civil war without a serious security threat. Its vaunted “peshmerga” fighters - those who confront death - also controlled wide stretches of territory outside the autonomous zone, which served as sanctuary for fleeing Christians and other minorities when Islamic State fighters arrived in the region last month.
But the past week saw the peshmerga crumble in the face of an advance by the fighters, who have heavy weapons they seized from Iraqi army troops that abandoned their posts in June. In addition, the fighters are flush with cash looted from banks.
Christians, many of them already refugees who had sought shelter in peshmerga-controlled areas, were suddenly forced to flee. Tens of thousands of Christians fled on Thursday when the Islamic State overran their hometown, Qaraqosh.
A United Nations humanitarian spokesman said some 200,000 people fleeing the Islamists’ advance had reached the town of Dohuk on the Tigris River in Iraqi Kurdistan and nearby areas of Nineveh province. Tens of thousands had fled further north to the Turkish border, Turkish officials said.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-08-08