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US Planes Strike ISIL Artillery in Iraq

by Jeff Seldin August 08, 2014

U.S. military aircraft have conducted a strike on Islamist militant artillery used against Kurdish forces defending Irbil, a Pentagon spokesman said Friday.

At 6:45 a.m. EST, two fighter jets dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a truck and the mobile artillery it was towing, according to the Pengaton's press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby.

​​Militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant were using the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending the Kurdish capital, where U.S. personnel including diplomats and military advisers also are stationed.

The raid came hours after President Barack Obama's Thursday-evening televised announcement that he had granted permission to strike if U.S. personnel and facilities were imperiled. He also had expressed fear that the militants were conducting a campaign of genocide against the Yazidi, an Iraqi religious minority.

Fleeing ISIL forces, thousands of the Yazidis and Iraqi Christians have been stranded for days without food, water or shelter on the slopes of Sinjar mountain.

'When we have the unique ability to help avert a massacre,' Obama said Thursday, the United States can act to avoid genocide.

The U.S. Central Command's leader decided to strike.

'As the president made clear, the United States military will continue to take direct action against ISIL when they threaten our personnel and facilities,' Kirby said in a statement.

The bombing represents the widest use of American military force in Iraq since U.S. troops pulled out in 2011, following nearly a decade of war.

Obama on Thursday repeated his pledge not to send back ground troops.

'As commander-in-chief,' he said, 'I will not allow [the United States] to be dragged into another war in Iraq.'

Speaking from New Delhi, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the United States would continue to support the Iraqi government as well as Iraqi security forces against the extremist threat.

Humanitarian aid to refugees

Hagel said humanitarian aid also had been delivered to the Yazidi refugees. He said three aircraft dropped 72 bundles of emergency food and water supplies; 60 safely reached them.

The United Nations Security Council met in emergency session late Thursday, calling on members to do all they can to support the Iraqi government and ease the suffering. The council said attacks on civilians because of their ethnic background or religion may constitute a crime against humanity.

The international community showed support for the refugees in northern Iraq.

Turkey dispatched five trucks of food, medicine, blankets and other basic goods, a senior official told Reuters.

That country, which lies on the northern borders of both Syria and Iraq, fears ISIL militants' rapid move toward Irbil, Reuters noted. But Turkish officials distanced themselves from any involvement in Friday's airstrikes, saying the U.S. air base in Turkey was not used.

​​The British air force will drop food aid to the refugees within the next few days, AFP reported.

While British officials backed Obama's approval of airstrikes, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said the U.K. would restrict itself to humanitarian aid and to a secondary role for the U.S. military effort.

'Our focus is on assisting that humanitarian mission,' Fallon said, 'and using our military in support of the Americans in terms of refueling and surveillance to underpin their mission and to add to it with food drops of our own.

'We welcome what the Americans are doing now to, in particular to bring humanitarian relief, and to prevent any further suffering,' Fallon added.

Pope Francis has asked Cardinal Fernando Filoni to travel to northern Iraq and 'meet with the people most affected' by the militant attacks, Catholic News Service reported Friday.

Filoni was 'the only diplomat to remain in Iraq' at the start of the U.S.-led military invasion, the service reported, quoting a Vatican spokesman. The Vatican did not indicate when Filoni was expected to arrive.

U.S. restricts flights over Iraq

Also on Friday, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration restricted any nonmilitary U.S. aircraft from from flying over Iraq because of 'the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict,' it said in a press release.

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