REUTERS- U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday he had authorized "targeted" U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq and military airdrops of humanitarian supplies to besieged religious minorities there to prevent a "potential act of genocide."
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Speaking after meetings with his national security team, Obama - in his most significant response to the Iraq crisis - said he approved limited use of American air power to protect American personnel if Islamic State militants advance toward the Kurdish capital Arbil where they are based.
"We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide," Obamas told reporters at the White House. "I've therefore authorized targeted airstrikes if necessary."
The airstrikes would be the first carried out by the U.S. military in Iraq since the withdrawal of its forces at the end of 2011, but Obama insisted he would not commit any ground forces and had no intention of letting the United States get dragged back into a war there.
Earlier on Thursday, the Pentagon denied reports that the U.S. military had struck Islamic State targets in Iraq's north.
Obama took action amid international fears of a humanitarian catastrophe engulfing tens of thousands of members of Iraq's minority Yazidi sect driven out of their homes and stranded on Sinjar mountain under threat from rampaging militants of Islamic State, an Al-Qaeda splinter group. Many Iraqi Christians have also fled for their lives.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement urging the world community to step in and help counter the expansion of Islamic State fighters.
The Islamic State's "campaign of terror against the innocent, including Yezedi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque and targeted acts of violence bear all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide," read the statement. "For anyone who needed a wake-up call, this is it. [IS] is not fighting on behalf of Sunnis. [IS] is not fighting for a stronger Iraq. [IS] is fighting to divide and destroy Iraq – and [IS] is offering nothing to anyone except chaos, nihilism, and ruthless thuggery. With a gut-wrenching humanitarian crisis unfolding, and the rolls of the starving and sick growing daily, there’s not a minute to waste. The United States is acting and leading, and the world cannot sit by and watch innocents die. We will continue to coordinate with our allies in the region and the international community to assist Iraqis to confront [IS]’s brutal ideology which poses a severe threat to Iraq, the region, and the United States."