AFRICANGLOBE – U.S. jet fighters hit Islamic State artillery positions in northern Iraq on Friday, the first of what is expected to be a series of American strikes meant to halt the Sunni extremist advance on the Kurdish capital of Erbil, the Pentagon said.
The U.S. F-18 jet fighters dropped 500 pound laser guided bombs on mobile artillery positions outside Erbil, said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.
The strikes were the first since President Barack Obama authorized U.S. military action to target radical Islamic forces in the Kurdish city, where the U.S. has diplomatic and military personnel aiding the Kurds.
Mr. Obama said Thursday night he had authorized targeted airstrikes and emergency assistance missions in northern Iraq, saying the U.S. must act to protect American personnel and prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Mr. Obama said the goal of strikes would be to stop militants closing in on the northern city of Erbil, a Kurdish stronghold, or to allow local forces to aid the Yazidis, the religious minority.
The strikes bring to a head soaring concern about militant advances in Iraq, where extremist fighters seized control of areas long considered safe and took over the Mosul Dam, the country’s largest.
The push deeper into Northern Iraq by the Islamic State has put the group less than 40 miles from the Kurdish capital of Erbil and sent tens of thousands fleeing.
Until Friday, Washington had held off on any direct military involvement, preferring instead to pressure Iraqi lawmakers to form a new government that might more effectively counter the threat from militants who have fashioned themselves as the Islamic State, a spinoff of al Qaeda previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS.
The Mosul dam, a key source of electricity, would give Islamic State tremendous leverage—if the facility is damaged or destroyed, it could flood entire cities, even Baghdad, some 300 miles away. The dam provides electricity to and controls the water supply in Mosul and the surrounding area.
The U.S. has considered airstrikes before in Iraq, but backed down as the advance by Sunni militants slowed and the threat against Baghdad seemed to diminish. But the extremists have renewed their push in recent days, this time against Kurdish controlled territories.
U.S. officials said Thursday they had received a formal request for assistance, but didn’t say if it was from the Kurdish regional authorities or the central government in Iraq. As part of the effort to send military advisers to Iraq, the U.S. has set up coordination centers in both Baghdad and Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital.
The return to military engagement in Iraq, a country that in its various incarnations has bedeviled presidents for more than two decades, represents a reversal for Mr. Obama, whose early opposition to the war that toppled Saddam Hussein, and his promise to end it, fueled his long-shot campaign for the White House.
By: Dion Nissenbaum