President Barack Obama Thursday authorized “targeted airstrikes” against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if needed to keep United States personnel at the Consulate in Erbil safe. Airstrikes could also be used to prevent the annihilation of minority groups such as the Iraqi Yazidis. The Yazidis were forced to flee into the mountains without any provisions at all after ISIS overran the town of Sinjar in last week’s fighting. According to Iraq’s state-run National Media center, 45 ISIS fighters were killed and injured last Friday during an Iraqi airstrike in the northern town of Sinjar.
The second operation authorized by President Obama is “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”. The Yazidis are ancient Kurdish descendants, whose faith is considered pre-Isalmic, drawing from Judaism and Christianity and Zoroastrianism.
BBC World Service (on air) reported this morning that none of the aid dropped in by air has so far reached the Yazidis who are in dire need of water, food and shelter. The daytime temperature in the mountains can reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and fall to freezing at night. It was also reported that what aid has been authorized is far too little to stave off starvation of large numbers of people.
Erbil, also called Irbil and Arbil, is the capital of Kurdistan. If Kurdistan falls, Turkey would be vulnerable to ISIS and the U.S. would lose an ally in that region. There have been conflicting reports of ISIS militants’ capture of Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam, located on the Tigris River, to the north of Mosul which is Iraq’s second largest city. The militants have apparently been using U.S. made weapons, including M1 Abrams tanks, according to a senior Kurdish official. There was heavy fighting reported between the ISIS militants and the Pesmerga, as the Kurdish forces are known. U.S. officials fear flooding all the way to Baghdad should the dam be damaged or destroyed.
Erbil, where the U.S. consulate is located, was shelled Friday morning at 6:45 am. Two U.S. F/A 18 fighters dropped two 500-pound laser-guided bombs, striking an ISIS artillery unit outside of Erbil. Also on Friday, the FAA banned all flights originating out of the United States from Iraqi air space. The Islamic state, once led by Abu Musab al-Zaraqwi who was killed by the Americans in 2006, has been deemed too extreme even for al Queda in its quest to establish an Islamic caliphate.
On Friday, at 6:50 pm EST, CNN reported that there were two more airstrikes, following the first, in the last 24 hours. A second strike came at 10am EST when a drone struck at an ISIS mortar position. When the ISIS troops returned shortly thereafter, another airstrike destroyed the position. The third strike came at 11:20 am EST, when four F/A18’s flew over Iraq and struck at a convoy of seven ISIS vehicles and a mortar position near Erbil, as ISIS troops advanced toward the capital. Eight bombs were dropped during two air passes.
President Obama maintains that no U.S. ground troops will be used, to avoid being dragged into another Middle East conflict and that he is only authorizing targeted airstrikes against ISIS to keep U.S. consulate personnel safe in Erbil. The United States currently has hundreds of military personnel in Iraq, including advisers sent in to coordinate with Iraqi and Kurdish military officials in response to the advancing ISIS threat.
By Dawn Lustig