A U.S.-led military and humanitarian intervention has begun in Iraq, as a coalition of forces works to repel the advance of Islamic State militants threatening to wipe out entire communities.
(Update 8:50 a.m.:) On Friday morning, the Pentagon confirmed via Twitter that U.S. aircraft had finally conducted an airstrike on ISIS targets, hitting artillery being used against Kurdish forces in Irbil.
After reports circulated throughout the day, that Washington was considering taking action to help thousands of stranded Iraqi citizens, news out of Iraq is that a two-pronged effort was now underway to assist those in northern Iraq who were under siege from militants. Humanitarian airdrops of water and supplies began on Friday morning local time, and bombing assaults were also targeting ISIS positions near the Kurdish town of Irbil.
Although the Pentagon has denied direct involvment by U.S. forces, American planes are reportedly in the air providing support. Iraqi forces claimed to have taken part in the bombing runs, though some have questioned if the Iraqi air force was equipped to handle such attack, or if another ally, possibly Turkey, was involved.
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby quickly denied reports that the U.S. has bombed Iraq in the wake of increased aggression by the Islamic State militant group, which has resulted in as many as 40,000 displaced religious minorities.
The New York Times reported around 5:00 p.m. Eastern on Thursday that, according to Kurdish officials and media reports, American military forces conducted airstrikes on at least two targets in northern Iraq, where ISIS has cut off access to the displaced residents. Within minutes, the Pentagon denied that story via Twitter.
Press reports that US has conducted airstrikes in Iraq completely false. No such action taken.— Rear Adm. John Kirby (@PentagonPresSec) August 7, 2014
Mitchell Prothero of the McClatchy news service also reported that jet aircraft had bombed ISIS positions, and that Kurdish television first reported the bombers were American. In a McClatchy interview, a resident in the town of Kalak, 25 miles northwest of Irbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region, said she saw the aircraft and heard the explosions, but could not see any markings on the aircraft because it was dark. The bombings would have taken place on early Friday morning in Iraq.
The Obama administration had said earlier Thursday the president is considering airstrikes in the region to address the humanitarian crisis, and to protect U.S. military advisors who are in the region. "These actions have exacerbated an already dire crisis, and the situation is nearing a humanitarian catastrophe," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. "I'm not in a position to rule things on the table or off the table."
In addition, ABC News is reporting that the U.S. has begun humanitarian air drops, but not bombing raids. The Times also reported that President Obama was planning to deliver a statement, but there has no confirmation from the White House.
Update: Earlier this evening, President Obama delivered a brief statement on the situation from the White House. He confirmed that he authorized two operations, "targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death." Obama said that the U.S. cannot intervene in every crisis, but "when many thousands of innocent civilians are faced with the danger of being wiped out, and we have the capacity to do something about it, we will take action." He added that the military has been authorized to carry out "targeted strikes" against ISIS should they move toward Irbil.
You can read the full statement here, or watch the speech below.