President Barack Obama on Saturday said the US would intervene everytime it could to prevent “massacre of innocent people”, justifying his decision to carry out targeted airstrikes in Iraq against Islamist militants.
“The US cannot and should not intervene everytime there’s a crisis in the world. But when there’s a situation like the one on this mountain — when countless innocent people are facing a massacre, and when we have the ability to help prevent it — the US cannot just look away,” Obama said.
“That’s not who we are. We are Americans. We act. We lead,” he said in his weekly address to the nation.
Thousands of families from the Yazidi minority community are trapped in the Sinjar mountains in north Iraq without food and water after fleeing the rampaging fighters of the Islamic State, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS.
Obama said he has directed US military to take action “to protect our American diplomats and military advisers serving in the city of Erbil.”
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His order to send warplanes back to Iraq, three years after pulling the last US troops out of the country, came after the IS made huge gains on the ground, seizing a dam and forcing a mass exodus of religious minorities.
“Thursday night, I made it clear that if they attempted to advance further, our military would respond with targeted strikes,” Obama said. “We have Americans serving across Iraq, including our embassy in Baghdad, and we will do whatever is needed to protect our people.”
The US operation began with air drops of food and water for thousands of people hiding from the Sunni extremist militants in a barren northern mountain range.
Many of America’s allies backed the US intervention, pledging urgent steps to assist the legions of refugees.
“We have begun a humanitarian effort to help those Iraqi civilians trapped on that mountain. The terrorists that have taken over parts of Iraq have been especially brutal to religious minorities — rounding up families, executing men, enslaving women, and threatening the systematic destruction of an entire religious community, which would be genocide,” the US President said.
“The thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Iraqi men, women and children who fled to that mountain were starving and dying of thirst. The food and water we airdropped will help them survive,” he said.
Obama took over his office determined to end military involvement in Iraq, and he even oversaw the withdrawal of US ground forces from there in his first term.
But the capture of huge swathes of land by the militants, who proclaimed a “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq in late June, has brought the country closer to collapse.
Earlier this week, one anguished Iraqi cried to the world that “there is no one coming to help.”
“Today, America is helping,” said Obama. He, however, ruled out putting “boots on the ground” in Iraq.
“American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there is no American military solution to the larger crisis there. What we will do is continue our broader strategy in Iraq. We will protect our citizens…We will help prevent these terrorists from having a permanent safe haven,” he said.