Obama: No timetable on US operations in Iraq
US airstrikes have destroyed the arms and equipment of militants in Iraq, President Barack Obama said Saturday, insisting there was no timetable for the American military offensive launched this week.
"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 they are protected," Obama told reporters, warning that the "long-term project" could take months.
Obama also said that France and Britain have agreed to support US humanitarian efforts to help tens of thousands of civilians besieged by militants on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.
"Both leaders expressed strong support for actions and agreed to join us in providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqis suffering so much," Obama told reporters at the White House after speaking by telephone with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande.
On Friday, at least two US air strikes hit Islamic State positions and at least one convoy of vehicles carrying militants west of Erbil.
The airstrikes were followed Saturday a second US humanitarian airdrop to Yazidi civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. Later on Saturday, Kurdish Pershmega fighters rescued 10,000 of the estimated 30,000 Yazidis.
"We are transferring the rescued Yazidis to Syria via a safe corridor. Then we will take them to Zakho city in the Duhok province of the Kurdish autonomous region," he added.
The UN has warned that more than one million Iraqis have been displaced as the militant group advanced in the country's northern and western areas.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including many who belong to Iraq's religious minorities, have fled this week alone.
Saturday's humanitarian supply drops delivered 28,224 meals and 1,522 gallons of fresh drinking water to the mountainous area, according to a Pentagon source.
Coming several months into the militants' campaign across the weakened country, US President Barack Obama explained the timing of the US intervention as an offensive against potential genocide.
“When you have a unique circumstance in which genocide is threatened, and a country is willing to have us in there, you have a strong international consensus that these people need to be protected and we have a capacity to do so, then we have an obligation to do so,” Obama told the New York Times in a candid interview about US foreign policy on Friday, shortly after the US air offensive began.
Obama stressed that the US does not want to "be in the business of being the Iraqi air force . . . in the absence of a commitment of the people on the ground to get their act together and do what's necessary politically to start protecting themselves and to push back against [IS]."
US airstrikes following IS advances in June and July were delayed, he said, "because that would have taken the pressure off of [Prime Minister Nuri] al-Maliki," he said.
Maliki and other leaders would have thought, said Obama, "‘We don’t actually have to make compromises. We don’t have to make any decisions. We don’t have to go through the difficult process of figuring out what we’ve done wrong in the past. All we have to do is let the Americans bail us out again. And we can go about business as usual.’ ”
Since IS's campaign started gaining momentum in June, the Obama administration has said repeatedly that the Iraqi government should work on resolving differences between the country's Sunni and Shiite populations to push back against the group that has attracted a variety of disaffected Iraqis including former Baathists.
"Frankly, over the last several years, we have not seen the kind of trust and cooperation develop between moderate Sunni and Shia leaders inside of Iraq," Obama said in early June when IS gained international attention.