U.S. confirms air strikes targeting Islamic State militants near Iraq's Mosul dam
Strikes are part of joint U.S.-Iraq plan to reclaim control over major dam, CNN reports; Islamic State massacres some 80 Yazidis.
United States on Saturday conducted air strikes in Iraq against Islamic State fighters near the Kurdish capital of Arbil and the Mosul dam, the U.S. Central Command said.
The Mosul dam, Iraq's biggest, fell under control of Islamic State militants earlier this month. Control of the dam could give the Sunni Islamists the ability to flood cities and cut off vital water and electricity supplies.
After the Islamic State's capture of the northern city of Mosul in June, its swift push to the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan alarmed Baghdad and last week drew the first U.S. air strikes on Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011.
"The nine air strikes conducted thus far destroyed or damaged four armored personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and an armored vehicle," the U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
It said the strikes were conducted with a mix of fighters and drones, adding: "All aircraft exited the strike areas safely."
The Central Command said the strikes were aimed at supporting humanitarian efforts in Iraq and protecting U.S. personnel and facilities there.
Air strikes pounded the area around Iraq's largest dam on Saturday in an effort to drive out militants who captured it earlier this month, as reports emerged of the massacre of some 80 members of the Yazidi religious minority by Islamic extremists.
Residents living near the Mosul Dam told The Associated Press that the area was being targeted in air strikes, but it was not immediately clear whether they were being carried out by Iraq's air force or the U.S., which last week began launching air strikes aimed at halting the advance of the Islamic State group across the country's north.
Earlier, CNN said that the U.S. had struck the area, citing Kurdish news agency Rudaw. According to CNN, the report was in line with a planned U.S. and Iraqi military operation aimed at reclaiming the dam from the Islamic State. The plan includes U.S. in Iraqi air strikes against Islamic State positions, with Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga troops following up on the ground.
The extremist group seized the dam on the Tigris River on Aug. 7. Residents near the dam say the air strikes killed militants, but that could not immediately be confirmed. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity out of fears for their safety.
A Yazidi lawmaker and a Kurdish security official meanwhile said the Islamic State massacred scores of Yazidi men Friday afternoon after seizing the village of Kocho. Both said they based their information on the accounts of survivors and warned that the minority group remains in danger despite U.S. aid drops and air strikes launched to protect them.
Islamic State fighters besieged the village for several days and gave its Yazidi residents a deadline to convert to Islam, Yazidi lawmaker Mahma Khalil said Saturday.
"When the residents refused to do this, the massacre took place," he said.
Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled when the Islamic State group earlier this month captured the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border. The Yazidis practice an ancient religion that the Sunni Muslim radicals consider heretical.
The decision to launch air strikes marked the first direct U.S. military intervention in Iraq since the last troops withdrew in 2011, and reflected growing international concern about the extremist group, which has carved out a self-styled Islamic state in large parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria.
On Saturday, Britain's Ministry of Defense said it deployed a U.S.-made spy plane over northern Iraq to monitor the humanitarian crisis and movements of Islamic State militants. It said the converted Boeing KC-135 tanker, called a Rivet Joint, would monitor mobile phone calls and other communication.
Two British planes also landed Saturday in the Kurdish regional capital Irbil carrying humanitarian supplies.
Khalil, the Yazidi lawmaker, said the U.S. must do more to protect those fleeing the Islamic State group.
"We have been calling on the U.S. administration and Iraqi government to intervene and help the innocent people, but it seems that nobody is listening," Khalil said.
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