NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — American officials say the U.S. launched a second round of airstrikes against Islamic State targets near Erbil on Friday, using drones and fighter jets.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the strikes by name, said unmanned aircraft struck a mortar near Erbil and four Navy F/A-18 fighter jets struck a seven-vehicle convoy outside Erbil. The jets flew off the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier.
The Friday afternoon strikes followed a morning strike on an Islamic State artillery gun that was firing on Kurdish troops near U.S. personnel. President Barack Obama said late Thursday that the U.S. would launch airstrikes on the militant group that was threatening American military trainers in the northeastern Iraq city.
The officials said the convoy was destroyed.
President Obama authorized the use of force to protect Americans in the Kurdish city of Erbil, where many Americans are operating out of the U.S. Consulate, Martin reported.
This is the first real military action in Iraq in more than three years, CBS 2’s Sonia Rincon reported.
U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) quickly voiced support for the president’s decision to authorize the strike and humanitarian effort, saying that “it’s essential that America lead airstrikes.”
“They can’t be allowed to carry out this genocide,” King said. “It’s in America’s interest, and it’s also a very important humanitarian effort.”
The Commander in Chief emphasized on Thursday that the U.S. can’t intervene every time there is a crisis in Iraq, but said he has been closely monitoring the situation and that this case is an exception, CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell reported.
“When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I think the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” the president said during a news conference Thursday night.
President Obama authorized the airstrikes to protect American diplomats and U.S. military personnel, as well as to assist thousands of Iraqi religious minorities under attack by ISIS.
“These terrorists have continued to move across Iraq and have neared Erbil, where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate, and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces,” Obama said.
But in his address, the president made it clear the operation would not involve ground troops.
“I will not allow the United states to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” he said.
Speaking on-air with WCBS 880 Friday morning, Rep. King said that while he supported the president, he wishes he would, “stop saying what he’s not going to do. Never tell the enemy what you’re not going to do.”
“What he wants to do in the end is up to him, but no Commander in Chief should be telling the enemy what he’s not going to do because it makes it seem like he can’t wait to get it over with,” King said.
King also said ISIS was a threat to the U.S. and that Obama should not be taking “anything off the table,” in the form of not involving group troops.
“We do have American soldiers on the ground over there. He sent them in, he’s calling them advisers. That’s probably more advisers than President Eisenhower had in Vietnam when he left office,” King said.
The president said American military planes already had carried out airdrops of food and water, at the request of the Iraqi government, to tens of thousands of Iraqi religious minorities atop a mountain surrounded by militants and desperately in need of supplies.
As CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, extremists have given thousands of families a choice: convert to Islam or die.
“These innocent families are faced with a horrible choice, descend the mountain and be slaughtered or stay and slowly die of the thirst and hunger,” President Obama said.
The Yazidis, who follow an ancient religion with ties to Zoroastrianism, fled their homes after the Islamic State group issued an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a religious fine, flee their homes or face death.
One man described horrific conditions on the ground in Iraq.
“They called me just now, he said, they are walking, and they are leaving dead children behind,” he said.
U.S. planes have dropped food and water to try and help, as the UN claims that dozens of children have already died of dehydration.
Speaking from Afghanistan, Secretary of State John Kerry said ISIS has been especially brutal toward different ethnic and religious groups, Rincon reported.
“Isil’s campaign of terror against the innocent, including the Yazidi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque targeted acts of violence show all the warning signs of genocide,” Kerry said. “For anyone who needed a wake-up call, this is it.”
Traveling in India, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday that if Islamic militants threaten U.S. interests in Iraq or the thousands of refugees who fled to a mountaintop, the U.S. military has enough intelligence to clearly single out the attackers and launch effective airstrikes.
He also told reporters that more than 60 of the 72 bundles of food and water airdropped onto the mountain reached the Iraqi religious minorities stranded there.
On Friday night, the Pentagon confirmed that military planes had made a second air drop of food and water to Iraqi refugees who are trapped in the mountains.
The announcements reflected the deepest American engagement in Iraq since U.S. troops withdrew in late 2011 after nearly a decade of war. Obama, who made his remarks in a steady and somber tone, has staked much of his legacy as president on ending what he once called the “dumb war” in Iraq.
In New York, the NYPD said that it would step up patrols although there has not been a specific threat against the city.
Meanwhile, federal aviation authorities are prohibiting U.S. airlines and other commercial carriers from flying over Iraq, saying hostilities there could threaten safety.
The FAA announced the ban Friday, citing the “potentially hazardous situation” created by fighting between militants and Iraqi security forces and their allies.
The ban applies to all U.S.-registered planes except those operated by foreign carriers and to FAA-licensed pilots. There is an exception for flights operated with U.S. government permission and for emergency situations.
The ban comes just three weeks after a Malaysia Airlines plane with nearly 300 people on board was shot down over eastern Ukraine.
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