The U.S. military launched its first airstrike on Islamic State militants in northern Iraq on Friday, hours after President Obama authorized military action and humanitarian drops to protect the autonomous Kurdish-controlled city Erbil, said the Pentagon.
The Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said “two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil.”
The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander pursuant in addition to the President’s authorization to strike if needed to protect Erbil from the advancing militant group.
The Kurdish-controlled capital, Erbil, is a home to a U.S. consulate and a joint U.S.-Iraqi operations center.
“We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad,” President Obama said on Thursday from the White House.
In Iraq, 650 U.S. troops are stationed – 470 of them to protect American personnel and facilities, and the rest are there to assist Iraqi refugees fleeing from ISIS and to aid Iraqi forces in dealing with the ISIS militants who have seized key cities.
In recent days, ISIS has carried out a deadly offensive on Kurdish forces and has captured the Christian town of Qaraqosh in northern Iraq, forcing thousands to flee their homes.
“American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq,” he said.
The U.S. has also dispatched Apache attack helicopters and surveillance aircraft to the airport.