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Obama authorizes targeted airstrikes in Iraq to protect Americans, prevent genocide

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(CNN) — President Barack Obama said Thursday night he has authorized targeted airstrikes in Iraq to protect American personnel and prevent “possible genocide” of an Iraqi minority trapped on a mountain by Islamic extremists .

A humanitarian crisis is emerging in northern Iraq where about 40,000 Iraqis,  members of a minority group, are trapped on top of a mountain and facing possible slaughter or starvation by Sunni Muslim extremists below.

“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 in an address from the White House.

“When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” Obama said.

Obama said U.S. cargo planes had dropped supplies to the refugees in the northern Iraqi area of Mt. Sinjar, who he said faced the risk of imminent starvation after fleeing Islamic extremist forces.

“When we have the capacity to do something about it, we will take action,” Obama said. “That’s who we are. The United States has started a humanitarian airdrop mission in northern Iraq, sending aid to minority groups trapped as brutal Islamist fighters advance.

“We do whatever is necessary to protect our people. We support our allies when they’re in danger,” Obama said.

Obama said he’d authorized targeted airstrikes “if necessary” to help forces in Iraq fighting to protect civilians trapped in the mountains as brutal Islamist fighters advance.

He said no U.S. combat troops would be sent into Iraq again.

A key concern for U.S. officials: American consular staff and military advisers working with the Iraqi military in Irbil, the largest city in Iraq’s Kurdish region.

Obama said Thursday he’d directed the military to take targeted strikes against Islamist militants “should they move towards the city.”

In addition, thousands of families from the Yazidi minority are reportedly trapped in the mountains without food, water or medical care after fleeing the rampaging fighters of the  Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS.

Throngs of refugees, many of them Iraqi Christians, are on the run — their largest city now occupied by fighters who gave them an ultimatum, “Convert to Islam or die.”

Obama also said he’d authorized targeted airstrikes “if necessary” to help Iraqi forces protect civilians trapped on the mountain as brutal Islamist fighters advance.

“When we face a situation like we do on that mountain with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help, in this case a request from the Iraqi government, and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” Obama said. “We can act, carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”

The potential escalation of U.S. military involvement comes two years after Obama ended the Iraq war and brought home American forces.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday that any potential U.S. action in Iraq would be limited, with no chance of ground troops heading back.

Obama acknowledged that many Americans are concerned about military action in Iraq.

“As Commander in Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq, so as we support Iraqis as they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq because there is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq,” Obama said.

The President’s announcement that he’d authorized airstrikes came after the United States airdropped meals and water in Iraq, sending aid to trapped minority groups.

“The mission was conducted by a number of U.S. military aircraft under the direction of U.S. Central Command,” a senior U.S. defense official said. “The aircraft that dropped the humanitarian supplies have now safely exited the immediate airspace over the drop area.”

Iraqi forces fight back as Islamists advance

The Iraqi air force bombed a number of targets Thursday night, Qubad Talabani, deputy prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, told CNN. The strikes killed at least two ISIS emirs, he said.

Talabani also reported that U.S. officials said humanitarian airdrops would take place for the tens of thousands of Yazidis he estimates are stranded without food or water.

The United States has been sharing intelligence through reconnaissance but are not involved in any airstrikes, a senior Iraqi military official told CNN on Thursday.

The ISIS fighters, armed with armored vehicles and other military hardware taken from Iraqi forces in a lightning sweep through the north earlier this year, have overrun Iraq’s largest Christian town and nearby villages.

When radical Islamist fighters stormed the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar over the weekend, the Yazidi minority who call it home fled into the surrounding mountains in fear of their lives.

Now, trapped without food, water or medical care in the summer heat, thousands are in desperate need of help. It’s already too late to save dozens of children who’ve died of thirst.

Other groups targeted by ISIS, which seeks to establish a Sunni caliphate stretching from Syria to Baghdad, include Shiite Muslim, Turkmen and Shabak — all religious minorities.

Fleeing people, some in cars and trucks and others on foot, got out with whatever possessions. The United Nations estimates 200,000 people heading toward Kurdistan in the past 48 hours.

After an emergency meeting on the situation Thursday, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement condemning the Islamists’ attacks.

“The members of the Security Council reiterate that widespread or systematic attacks directed against any civilian populations because of their ethnic background, political grounds, religion or belief may constitute a crime against humanity, for which those responsible must be held accountable,” the statement said

The council called on the international community to support Iraq “and to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population affected by the current conflict.”

The United States has 245 military personnel in Iraq, 90 of whom are advisers. The carrier USS George H.W. Bush and other Navy ships also are in the region.Sinjar unrest

Yazidis, among Iraq’s smallest minorities, are of Kurdish descent, and their religion is considered a pre-Islamic sect that draws from Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism.

Most of the 500,000 or so members live in and around Sinjar in northwestern Nineveh province, bordering Iraq’s Kurdish region.

The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, said Tuesday that official reports indicated 40 children from the Yazidi minority had died “as a direct consequence of violence, displacement and dehydration” since the weekend.

“Families who fled the area are in immediate need of urgent assistance, including up to 25,000 children who are now stranded in mountains surrounding Sinjar and are in dire need of humanitarian aid including drinking water and sanitation services,” it said.

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