WATCH: For the first time in years, the US military conducted airstrikes in Iraq today, targeting Islamic extremists. US planes also made airdrops to refugees stranded in Northern Iraq. Tara Mergener has the latest
WASHINGTON – The U.S. launched two more airstrikes against Islamic State targets in northern Iraq on Friday, hitting a vehicle convoy and two mortar positions, the Pentagon said.
The attacks near the city of Irbil were carried out by armed drones and Navy fighter jets, said the Defence Department’s press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby.
The drone struck a mortar position, and when Islamic State fighters returned to the site moments later they were attacked again and killed, Kirby said.
Separately, four Navy F/A-18 fighter jets struck a stationary convoy of seven vehicles and a mortar position outside Irbil, he said. The jets flew off the USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier and dropped a total of eight laser-guided bombs.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says Canada fully supports U.S. airstrikes against Islamic extremists in northern Iraq and has received no request for military assistance in the volatile region.
American warplanes bombed artillery used by the al-Qaida splinter group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The guns and rockets were being used against Kurdish forces defending Irbil, a city of approximately 1.5 million people.
Baird says Canada continues to condemn the “repugnant” killing of innocent civilians, including women and children, from Christian, Yazidi and other religious and minority communities.
He says Canadian officials – including Canada’s ambassador to Iraq, who is based in Jordan – will be working to determine how best to support the Iraqi people.
Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said that two F/A-18 jets dropped 500-pound (227-kilogram) bombs on a piece of artillery and the truck towing it Friday. Kirby said the fighters had taken off from the aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush in the Persian Gulf to conduct the mission. He said it wasn’t clear how many militants might have been killed in the strike.
The Pentagon said the militants were using the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Irbil.
US military aircraft conduct strike on ISIL artillery. Artillery was used against Kurdish forces defending Erbil, near US personnel.
— Rear Adm. John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec) August 8, 2014
For the United States, it was a re-engagement in the long sectarian war from which American combat forces had been withdrawn – on President Barack Obama’s orders – in late 2011.
In a televised speech Thursday night, Obama threatened to renew U.S. military involvement. At the same time, he announced that U.S. 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.
READ MORE: Who are the Yazidi?
“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.”
The announcement reflected the deepest American engagement in Iraq since U.S. troops left.
WATCH: ISIS is on the move again, taking on Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq and extending the borders of what they call their Islamic state
Obama, who made his remarks in a steady and sombre 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 in the event the Islamic State militants advanced on American troops in 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.
ANALYSIS: Iraq upheaval threatens Obama legacy
The planes delivered 5,300 gallons (20,000 litres) 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.
Iraqis on Friday welcomed the U.S. airlift of emergency aid to thousands of people who fled to the mountains to escape Islamic extremists and called for greater intervention.
“We thank Barack Obama,” said Khalid Jamal Alber, from the religious affairs ministry in the semi-autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq.
The Iraqi Ministry of Immigration and the Displaced also welcomed the aid drops. The ministry’s spokesman, Satar Nawrouz, said the drops came “just in time.”
Thousands of displaced Iraqis fled their camp in the face of advancing fighters of the Islamic State group.
The Khazer Camp stood empty Friday, located near the front lines of battles between the militants and Kurdish fighters. The camp had been populated by Iraqis who fled their cities and towns as they were taken over by Islamic State fighters in past weeks, and in the past few days they have been forced to flee again.
Turkish Airlines says it has suspended flights to Irbil until further notice.
The company said Friday it halted flights for security reasons after U.S. jets dropped bombs on Islamic militants who were towing artillery outside of the Kurdish regional capital, near U.S. personnel.
© 2014 The Canadian Press