President Obama announced that he has authorized airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS in order to defend U.S. personnel and to help protect thousands of civilians who are under attack from the Islamic militant group.
“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 said in a speech from the White House late Thursday.
Obama said he had authorized the strikes because militants from ISIS, also known as ISIL, were approaching the city of Erbil, where the U.S. has a consulate.*
“To stop the advance on Erbil, I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move towards the city,” he said. “We intend to stay vigilant and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad.”
Obama also announced that, at the request of the Iraqi government, the U.S. has begun a humanitarian airdrop of food and water to thousands of Iraqis stranded on the Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq. He called the threat to the ethnic- and religious-minority Yazidis that are being hunted by ISIS there a potential “genocide.”
“I’ve said before, the United States cannot and should not intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world, so let me be clear about why we must act and act now: When we face a situation like we do on that mountain, with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help—in this case a request from the Iraqi government—and when we have the unique capabilities to avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.”
“We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide. That’s what we’re doing on that mountain. I’ve therefore authorized targeted airstrikes, if necessary, to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there.”
Obama had previously been reluctant to authorize U.S. military force to come to the aid of the Iraqi government as it faced the further advance of ISIS. He promised that any airstrikes would not mark a return of U.S. ground troops to Iraq.
“I ran for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home, and that’s what we’ve done,” he said.
“As commander-in-chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq. … American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq.”
*Correction, Aug. 7, 2014: This post originally misstated that ISIS had renamed itself ISIL. It has renamed itself the Islamic State.