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U.S. fighters pound militants in northern Iraq

Aug. 7, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Obama authorizes air strikes in Iraq
Obama authorizes air strikes in Iraq: U.S. President Obama said he has authorized air strikes against Islamist militants in Iraq to protect American personnel and launched humanitarian assistance to stop a genocide. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.
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An Iraqi Yazidi family that fled the violence in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, sit at at a school where they are taking shelter in the Kurdish city of Dohuk in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, on Tuesday. (SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

FAA prohibits U.S. airline flights over Iraq

The Federal Aviation Administration prohibited U.S. airlines Friday from flying over Iraq because of safety concerns about military conflict.
The ban came the same day U.S. military forces began airstrikes against militants in northern Iraq. A previous warning urged pilots to fly at least 30,000 feet above Iraq because of the conflict between Iraqi security forces and militants associated with the Islamic State.
The update prohibits flights because of "the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict." The FAA said the prohibition will be reviewed at the end of the year.
Flight warnings gained greater attention after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down July 17 over Ukraine, where pro-Russia separatists are fighting government forces.
The FAA also suspended U.S. flights to Israel for 36 hours on July 22, when a rocket fell near the airport in Tel Aviv.
At a safety conference of the Air Line Pilots Association on Thursday, Claudio Manno, the FAA's assistant administrator for security, said the agency had issued, reviewed or updated six special regulations and 10 warnings to pilots for conflict zones during the past year. — USA Today
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Two Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on Islamic militants outside the Iraqi city of Irbil on Friday at dawn, a defense official said, marking the latest escalation of an open-ended military and humanitarian mission authorized by President Obama one day earlier.

The fighter jets struck a “mobile artillery piece” that the Islamic State militants were using to shell Kurdish forces defending the city of Irbil, Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.

About 40 U.S. military personnel are in Irbil running a joint operations center, and numerous U.S. diplomats and civilians are assigned to a U.S. consulate there.

The fighter jets came from the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf just hours after Obama on Thursday announced new military operations in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region.

“When the lives of American citizens are at risk, we will take action,” Obama said in a rare nighttime address from the White House on Thursday night. “To stop the advance on Irbil, I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against [Islamic State] terrorist convoys should they move toward the city.”

The strikes followed Thursday night’s launch of a humanitarian mission aimed at helping an estimated 40,000 Iraqis from the Yazidi minority sect who are stranded on a mountain, trapped by Islamic State forces and on the verge of starvation.

U.S. aircraft flew over the besieged Yazidis and dropped pallets of food, water and other supplies. That included two C-130 and one C-17 cargo planes, which were escorted by two F/A-18 Super Hornets, a senior defense official said.

The aircraft spent about 15 minutes flying at a low altitude over the drop zone, exposed to militants who may have surface-to-air weaponry. In total, the airdrop Thursday night included about 8,000 meals ready to eat and 5,300 gallons of drinking water.

Additional air drops will continue “as needed,” a defense official said.

In authorizing the humanitarian mission, Obama said he was moved by the “chilling reports [of militants] rounding up families, conducting mass executions and enslaving Yazidi women.”

“When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I think the United States cannot turn a blind eye,” he said, adding that the militants’ assault on the Yazidis could amount to “genocide.”

However, Obama repeated his vow not to reintroduce U.S. combat troops on the ground in Iraq.

“I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” he said. “American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq. The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.”

A senior administration official said protecting Irbil and the U.S. citizens there is the most “urgent priority,” but Obama also authorized air strikes on Islamic State forces surrounding the Yazidis to help break the siege that is putting those Iraqis at risk. Administration officials signaled that air strikes and humanitarian drops will continue until the siege is broken.

The Iraqi air force attempted some air drops earlier this week with limited success because “frankly, these are difficult military operations,” a senior administration official said.

Islamic State fighters recently began an aggressive move into Iraq’s northern Kurdish region and has repeatedly clashed with the Kurdish Peshmerga militia. The group has seized Iraq’s largest dam, just north of Mosul, raising fears that damage or mismanagement of the massive facility could threaten millions of Iraqis living in the Tigris River Valley.

More than 800 U.S. military personnel are in Iraq, most of them in Baghdad. About 300 are special operations troops whose primary mission is to gather intelligence, and about 400 are providing security for U.S. diplomats at the embassy and the Baghdad airport.

White House officials emphasized the limited nature of the mission.

“We are not launching a sustained U.S. campaign against [the Islamic State] here,” a senior administration official told reporters Thursday night.

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