US forces conduct airstrikes and aid drops in northern Iraq
US forces are carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State militants operating in northern Iraq. The militant group – also known as ISIS or ISIL – captured new territory over the past week, including towns dominated by religious minorities like Christians and Yazidis. Many civilians from these groups fled into the area’s mountains in the scorching August heat.
President Barack Obama announced US military intervention on Thursday night.
Barack Obama: “Today I authorized two operations in Iraq — targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death.”
Obama explicitly stated that American combat troops would not be returning to fight in Iraq. The US air support comes after militants gained ground in fighting against Iraqi Kurdistan’s well-trained and armed Peshmerga forces and neared the semi-autonomous region’s capital, Erbil.
The US has a military personnel and diplomats based in Erbil and the Kurdish region has already taken in hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people since the ISIL offensive began in June. Hermione Gee is FSRN’s reporter in Erbil.
Hermione Gee: “Obviously at the very beginning of this conflict we saw a huge number of people fleeing into the Kurdistan region – from Mosul in particular – because they were scared about ongoing fighting. And that was about 320 thousand or so. Since then, there’ve been internally displaced people from other cities in Iraq. But, in the last couple of weeks, many Christians have come into the Kurdistan region. And now, in the last few days, we’re seeing the Yazidi minority coming into the Kurdistan region because they’ve been driven out of their homes.
So we’re just seeing a huge displacement of people and just a huge displacement and destruction of very, very old communities. So, as well as it being a humanitarian crisis – a humanitarian disaster – and a terrible situation for the people and the families involved, we’re seeing these very old communities being destroyed and that is reshaping a lot of the demographics of northern Iraq and in a very… not in a good way seeing these communities uprooted and perhaps destroyed.”
In addition to seizing key towns dominated by religious minorities, in the past week Islamic State militants have also captured another oil field as well as the Mosul Dam, a strategic piece of infrastructure which generates electricity and controls downstream levels of the Tigris River.
Photo: Woman on Sinjar mountain. Credit: Bob Coleman vis Flickr.