4th LD Writethru: U.S. conducts targeted airstrikes on ISIL in N. Iraq

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. military has launched targeted airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in northern Iraq, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday.

At about 6:45 a.m. EDT (1045 GMT) Friday, two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region, Kirby said, adding that ISIL was using it to shell Kurdish forces defending the city, where U.S. personnel are located.

The decision to strike was made by Army General Lloyd Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, under authorization granted him by President Barack Obama, he said.

"As the president made it clear, the United States military will continue to take direct action against ISIL when they threaten our personnel and facilities," he added.

"The mission really is to protect American personnel in Erbil and potentially even in and around Baghdad. And this is an important point -- to try to help Iraqi security forces as they go after this threat," Kirby said.

"This is a threat inside their country, to their people, to their sovereignty, and ultimately this is an Iraqi fight to fight," the spokesman said.

"For our part, we're committed to two things -- one is trying to relieve that humanitarian issue there on Mount Sinjar and of course being prepared and ready to conduct air strikes to protect American personnel," Kirby said.

It is a problem for the international community, which has also responded with some humanitarian assistance, he noted, adding that the U.S. army is prepared to do what Obama has authorized: providing air drops of supplies to those Iraqi citizens on Mount Sinjar, and conducing air strikes against ISIL targets "if and when required."

"Our focus is helping the Iraqis deal with this threat inside their country and in the broader region," he said.

"We have put assessment teams on the ground. We've got advisers working in two joint operation centers, one in Baghdad, one up in Erbil, and now we have these operations conducted last night," he said.

In addition, the spokesman reiterated that the United States would not send ground troops back to that country. "Again, this is ultimately an issue that the Iraqi government has got to come to grips with and solve, and the Iraqi security forces have got to continue to step up against this threat."

On Thursday, Obama authorized two operations in Iraq: targeted air strikes and humanitarian relief, saying he had directed U.S. military forces to conduct targeted airstrikes on the militants if they moved to take Erbil, threatening the American citizens and military personnel there.