- Two F/A-18 fighter jets drop 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Arbil
- Obama accuses IS of attempting ‘the systematic destruction of the entire people, which would constitute genocide’
US military aircraft conducted an airstrike on Friday on Islamic State artillery used against Kurdish forces defending the city of Arbil, Iraq, near US personnel, a Pentagon spokesperson said.
Two F/A-18 fighter jets dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Arbil, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
He said the Islamic rebels had been using the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Arbil, the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. The United States has a consulate and, since Iraq’s latest security crisis erupted in June, a joint military operations center in Arbil.
“The decision to strike was made by the US Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief,” Kirby said. He said the strike occurred at 1:45 pm in Arbil (1045 GMT).
According to military officials, the strike was launched from the US aircraft carrier the USS George H W Bush.
In June, the Pentagon ordered the ship to the Gulf in preparation for any possible military action in Iraq.
The strike came only hours after US President Barack Obama authorised airstrikes on Iraq late on Thursday to protect Christians and avert “a potential act of genocide” of tens of thousands of members of the ancient Yazidi sect who have taken refuge on a desert mountaintop from Islamic State forces.
The United States has also begun dropping relief supplies to the refugees.
The American president said US warplanes could also target Islamic State militants if they advance on the city of Arbil, where the US has a diplomatic presence and advisors to Iraqi forces.
“We plan to stand vigilant and take action if they threaten our facilities anywhere in Iraq, including the consulate in Arbil and embassy in Baghdad,” he said.
A senior US defense official confirmed the mission had already dropped “critical meals and water for thousands of Iraqi citizens,” Yazidis trapped in the open on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.
Obama said there were perhaps tens of thousands of civilian refugees, and he accused the IS of attempting “the systematic destruction of the entire people, which would constitute genocide”.
He said the United States cannot act every time it sees injustice, but insisted: “We can act, carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”
“That’s what we’re doing on that mountain. I therefore authorised targeted air strikes if necessary to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege and protect the civilians trapped there,” he added.
Despite this note of determination, Obama was at pains to assure war weary Americans that he — the president who withdrew US forces from Iraq — was not about to get “dragged into fighting another war”.
“American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq,” he promised.
Earlier, in New York, the United Nations Security Council urged world powers “to support the government and the people of Iraq and to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population”.
Iraqi Ambassador Ali al-Hakim said the meeting focused on the need for urgent relief efforts to help civilians fleeing the violence, and denied reports that air strikes had also been carried out.
Separately, French President Francois Hollande’s office said “France was available to support forces engaged in this battle”.