President Obama announced Thursday night he has authorized the U.S. military to conduct air strikes "if necessary" against Islamist militants in Iraq, and the military has conducted a mission to drop humanitarian aid there to help religious minorities stranded amid the violence.
Obama said in a statement from the White House the U.S. military is authorized to launch targeted air strikes if Islamist militants advance toward American personnel in northern Iraq. He also said that the U.S. decided to conduct the drops to the 50,000 or so religious minorities stranded on a mountaintop in the country's north, who have been forced to flee their homes as the militants advanced.
Obama said the religious minorities are under the threat of genocide from militants from the Islamic State (IS), the group formerly known as ISIS, and are stranded on the mountain without food or water.
“The United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” Obama said.
Both C-130 and C-17 cargo aircraft participated in the drop, escorted by F-18 fighters. All aircraft have since safely left the immediate airspace over the drop area.
The crisis in Iraq has escalated since IS seized control Thursday of the country's largest Christian city, Qaraqoush. The militants told its residents to leave, convert or die, which sent tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, according to several priests in northern Iraq.
Last week, IS also seized the northwestern town of Sinjar, forcing tens of thousands of people from the ancient Yazidi minority to flee into the mountains and the Kurdish region.