The United States carried out nearly a dozen targeted air strikes against Islamic extremists in northern Iraq over the weekend, continuing a limited military campaign that President Barack Obama said will ultimately need to be resolved by the Iraqis.
“We will protect our American citizens in Iraq, whether they’re diplomats, civilians or military. If these terrorists threaten our facilities or our personnel, we will take action to protect our people,” Obama said at the White House on Saturday before heading off to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts for a family vacation. “We will continue to provide military assistance and advice to the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces as they battle these terrorists, so that the terrorists cannot establish a permanent safe haven.”
But he repeated that there would be no major ground combat in Iraq again.
“We should have learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion in Iraq, and that is that our military is so effective that we can keep a lid on problems wherever we are, if we put enough personnel and resources into it,” he said. “But it can only last if the people in these countries themselves are able to arrive at the kinds of political accommodations and compromise that any civilized society requires.
On Friday, the Pentagon said it conducted three air strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters near the Kurdish capital of Irbil. There were three more air strikes on Saturday, and another four on Sunday.
The crisis in Iraq worsened last week when ISIL fighters closed in on Irbil, where the U.S. has a consulate, and dozens of military personnel advising the Iraqis and Kurds, and tens of thousands of Iraqis, including religious and ethnic minorities, got stranded on a mountain in Sanjir fleeing ISIL fighters, who surrounded the base of the mountain. The U.S. also conducted several humanitarian air drops of food and water and were able to clear a path down the mountain for about 20,000 Iraqis to get to safety.
There are about 750 U.S. troops currently in Iraq, mostly around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and at the Baghdad International Airport. Pentagon Spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said the U.S. would protect its personnel and facilities. “We are more than prepared, more than ready to execute that mission,” he told CNN.
Obama would not put a timeline on U.S. military operations in Iraq, but said it would take some time.
“I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks,” he said.
“The Iraqi security forces, in order to mount an offensive and be able to operate effectively with the support of populations in Sunni areas, are going to have to revamp, get resupplied — have a clearer strategy. That’s all going to be dependent on a government that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military have confidence in. We can help in all those efforts.”