President Obama said tonight he has authorized the US military to carry out airstrikes in Iraq against Islamic militants if necessary to protect American personnel in northern Iraq. He emphasized, however, that no ground troops would be sent back to Iraq. Obama also said the US has begun humanitarian aid drops for thousands of Iraqis trapped in the mountains by advancing extremist fighters. "Today America is coming to help," Obama said from the White House. “When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I think the United States cannot turn a blind eye."
The New York Times quotes Iraqi and Kurdish officials as saying that airstrikes had already taken place in towns in northern Iraq recently been seized by fighters from the group known as ISIS, or the Islamic State. The Pentagon, however, disputes the account. Airstrikes would mark the biggest US involvement in military operations in Iraq since the withdrawal of troops in 2011, though Obama insisted that “I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq." The US has a team of military and diplomatic personnel working in the northern city of Erbil, and the airstrikes are intended to protect them if militants advance on the city, reports the Wall Street Journal.