By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 2014 – President Barack Obama has ordered U.S. aircraft to drop humanitarian supplies to tens of thousands of Yezidi refugees fleeing the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern Iraq.
The president also ordered U.S. combat aircraft to be ready to launch airstrikes to protect Americans in Erbil, Iraq, and to lift the siege of the Yezidis.
The first missions – a C-17 Globemaster III and two C-130 Hercules airlifters escorted by F-18 Super Hornets –already have delivered supplies to the beleaguered Yezidis, a religious minority that ISIL has vowed to eliminate.
“Today, America is coming to help,” Obama said during a nationally televised address tonight at the White House. “When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I think the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.”
Obama authorized two operations in Iraq. The first is targeted airstrikes to defend Americans. The most immediate threat now is in Irbil, where the United States maintains a consulate. ISIL has launched a broad attack that has threatened the city. The airstrikes are not limited to Irbil.
Senior officials speaking on background after the president’s address said ISIL is a competent force that poses real danger to religious minorities in Iraq.
“We intend to stay vigilant and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Irbil and our embassy in Baghdad,” the president said. “We’re also providing urgent assistance to Iraqi government and Kurdish forces so they can more effectively wage the fight against ISIL.”
Manned and unmanned U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft are over Irbil now, senior administration officials said.
The second operation is to help save Iraqi civilians stranded on the mountain. “In recent days, the Yezidi women, men, and children from the area of Sinjar have fled for their lives, and thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, are now hiding high up on the mountain with little but the clothes on their backs,” Obama said. “They are without food, they are without water. People are starving, and children are dying of thirst.”
August daytime temperatures in Iraq soar well into the 100s. The aircraft dropped enough water and food for 8,000 people, White House officials said. Obama also authorized targeted airstrikes to help Iraqi forces to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there.
This does not mean American troops will be deploying in large numbers to Iraq, he emphasized.
“As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq, and so even as we support Iraqis as they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq,” the president said. “The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.”
The several hundred American advisors the president ordered to Iraq will continue to assess what more can be done to help train, advise and support Iraqi forces, Obama said.
The president thanked American combat crews who are risking their lives over Iraq “for protecting our fellow Americans and saving the lives of so many men, women and children that they will never meet.”
“They represent American leadership at its best,” he added.