Washington: US air strikes in northern Iraq have successfully destroyed arms and equipment that ISIL terrorists could have used in Erbil city, President Barack Obama said here on Saturday.
Before he left for a two-week summer vacation, Obama told reporters that the American forces have conducted targeted air strikes against terrorist forces outside the city of Erbil to prevent them from advancing on the city and to protect US diplomats and military personnel.
"So far, these strikes have successfully destroyed arms and equipment that ISIL terrorists could have used against Erbil. Meanwhile, Kurdish forces on the ground continue to defend the city, and the United States and the Iraqi government have stepped up our military assistance to Kurdish forces as they wage their fight," he said.
Obama said the humanitarian effort continues to help the men, women and children stranded on Mount Sinjar.
American forces have so far conducted two successful airdrops -- delivering thousands of meals and gallons of water to these desperate men, women and children, he said adding that US aircraft are positioned to strike ISIL terrorists around the mountain to help forces in Iraq break the siege and rescue those who are trapped there.
"Now, even as we deal with these immediate situations, we continue to pursue a broader strategy in Iraq. We will protect our American citizens in Iraq, whether they`re diplomats, civilians or military. If these terrorists threaten our facilities or our personnel, we will take action to protect our people," Obama said.
This morning, Obama spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Francois Hollande.
"Both leaders expressed their strong support for our actions and have agreed to join us in providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqi civilians who are suffering so much. Once again, America is proud to act alongside our closest friends and allies," he said.
The United Nations in Iraq is working urgently to help respond to the needs of those Iraqis fleeing from areas under threat, he said adding that the UN Security Council has called on the international community to do everything it can to provide food, water and shelter.
Obama called on the Iraqi leadership to form the inclusive government that the country needs right now.
"All Iraqi communities are ultimately threatened by these barbaric terrorists and all Iraqi communities need to unite to defend their country," he said.
Responding to questions, Obama was reluctant to give any time frame for the US action in Iraq. "I`m not going to give a particular timetable, because as I`ve said from the start, wherever and whenever US personnel and facilities are threatened, it`s my obligation, my responsibility as Commander-in-Chief, to make sure that they are protected," he said.
"Our initial goal is to not only make sure Americans are protected, but also to deal with this humanitarian situation in Sinjar. We feel confident that we can prevent ISIL from going up a mountain and slaughtering the people who are there.
"But the next step, which is going to be complicated logistically, is how do we give safe passage for people down from the mountain, and where can we ultimately relocate them so that they are safe. That`s the kind of coordination that we need to do internationally," he said.
The most important timetable, he said, he is focused on right now is the Iraqi government getting formed and finalised.
"Because in the absence of an Iraqi government, it is very hard to get a unified effort by Iraqis against ISIL. We can conduct air strikes, but ultimately there`s not going to be an American military solution to this problem. There`s going to have to be an Iraqi solution that US and other countries and allies support. And that can`t happen effectively until you have a legitimate Iraqi government," he asserted.
Obama reiterated that US is not going to be dragged into another war. "I`ve been very clear that we`re not going to have US combat troops in Iraq again. And we are going to maintain that, because we should have learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion in Iraq," he said.
When asked if he underestimated ISIL, Obama said there is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and the expectations of policymakers both in and outside of Iraq.
"I don`t think we`re going to solve this problem in weeks, if that`s what you mean. I think this is going to take some time. The Iraqi security forces, in order to mount an offensive and be able to operate effectively with the support of populations in Sunni areas, are going to have to revamp, get resupplied -- have a clearer strategy," he said.