WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — CBS News reports that the U.S. has launched its first airstrike against Iraqi militants.
According to CBS News National Security correspondent David Martin, FA-18 fighter jets dropped at least one 500-pound bomb on an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria artillery piece that was shelling a Kurdish position near Erbil.
Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby tells The Associated Press that two F/A-18 jets dropped 500-pound bombs on a piece of artillery and the truck towing it.
The fighter jets returned safely back to the USS George H.W. Bush after the bombing. It is not known if the ISIS artillery piece was destroyed.
Martin reports that fighter jets have been orbiting while waiting for a target to come up and said this was a “quick strike.” The U.S. also had drones over Erbil for the past 24 hours.
“We will make sure that ISIL cannot approach Erbil,” a senior Obama administration officials told CBS News.
The bombing comes a day after President Barack Obama authorized U.S. airstrikes if necessary and airdrops of humanitarian aid in northern Iraq.
The threat to renew U.S. military involvement in Iraq’s long sectarian war came in a televised speech by Obama late Thursday. He 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.
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.
“Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, `There is no one coming to help.’ Well, today, America is coming to help,” Obama said. “We’re also consulting with other countries – and the United Nations – who have called for action to address this humanitarian crisis.”
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.
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.
Mindful of the public’s aversion to another lengthy war, Obama acknowledged that the prospect of a new round of U.S. military action would be a cause for concern among many Americans. He vowed anew not to put American combat troops back on the ground in Iraq and said there was no U.S. military solution to the crisis.
“As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” Obama said.
Even so, he outlined a rationale for airstrikes if the Islamic State militants advance on American troops in the northern city of Irbil and the U.S. consulate there in the Kurdish region of Iraq. The troops were sent to Iraq earlier this year as part of the White House response to the extremist group’s swift movement across the border with Syria and into Iraq.
“When the lives of American citizens are at risk, we will take action,” Obama said. “That’s my responsibility as commander in chief.”
He said he had also authorized the use of targeted military strikes if necessary to help the Iraqi security forces protect civilians.
Obama spoke following a day of urgent discussions with his national security team. He addressed the nation only after the American military aircraft delivering food and water to the Iraqis had safely left the drop site in northern Iraq.
The Pentagon said the airdrops were performed by one C-17 and two C-130 cargo aircraft that together delivered a total of 72 bundles of food and water. They were escorted by two F/A-18 fighters from an undisclosed air base in the region.
The planes delivered 5,300 gallons of fresh drinking water and 8,000 pre-packaged meals and were over the drop area for less than 15 minutes at a low altitude.
The president cast the mission to assist the Yazidis as part of the American mandate to assist around the world when the U.S. has the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre.
In those cases, Obama said, “we can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”
Officials said the U.S. was prepared to undertake additional humanitarian airdrops if necessary, though they did not say how quickly those missions could occur.
Administration officials said they believe unilateral U.S. strikes would be consistent with international law in part because the Iraqi government has asked for Washington to take military action. They also said Obama had the constitutional authority to act on his own in order to protect American citizens.
In light of the militants’ advances, Obama dispatched about 800 U.S. forces to Iraq earlier this year, with those troops largely split between joint operation centers in Baghdad and Irbil.
More than half are providing security for the embassy and U.S. personnel. American service members also are involved in improving U.S. intelligence, providing security cooperation and conducting assessments of Iraqi capabilities.
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