WASHINGTON — In a broadening of its campaign against the Islamic State, the United States launched airstrikes Saturday on Sunni militants who have been besieging the town of Amerli in northern Iraq.
The Pentagon announced the expanded strikes Saturday night. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said that U.S. planes also airdropped food, water and humanitarian aid to the town of Amerli, home to members of Iraq’s Turkmen minority. The town of 12,000 has been under siege by the militants for more than two months.
Aircraft from Australia, France and the United Kingdom joined the United States in dropping the supplies, Adm. Kirby said in a statement.
Administration officials had characterized the dangers facing the Turkmen, who are Shiite Muslims considered infidels by Islamic State, as similar to the threat faced by thousands of Yazidis, who were driven to Mount Sinjar in Iraq after attacks by the militants. The United Nations special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said last week that the situation in Amerli demanded “immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens.”
Adm. Kirby said that the U.S. military would “assess the effectiveness” of the airstrikes and airdrops and work with international organizations to provide humanitarian aid as needed.
The U.S. action occurred as Iraqi forces launched a ground operation Saturday to break the nearly three-month siege of Amerli.
Residents said several large crates of badly needed food, including biscuits, baby formula, fruit drinks and dates, were dropped by parachute, unlike previous relief deliveries by Iraqi forces whose helicopters have landed in town.
The fresh aid and military offensive cheered residents of Amerli, a farming community about 100 miles north of Baghdad.
Surrounded by Sunni Arab militants since June, its water and electricity have been cut off, food and medical supplies are running low and at least 10 people have died due to the fighting and illness, residents said.
“This is good news for us,” Nihad Bayati, an engineer and father of seven, said by telephone from Amerli. “We have been fighting as long as we can but we need help.”
United Nations officials have warned of a “massacre” in Amerli because the Islamic State extremists view Shiites as apostates and have brutally targeted Iraq’s ethnic Turkmen minority.
Amerli police officers and volunteer fighters have been defending themselves with light weapons against near-daily mortar rounds and sniper attacks.
For days, Iraqi forces and pro-government Shiite militiamen have been massing in the nearby town of Tuz Khurmato in preparation for a ground assault.
The operation began Saturday morning as the ground forces pushed toward Amerli from the north, east and west, with residents reporting loud firing that some described as tank rounds.
A day earlier, activists reported an increase in airstrikes that some said came from U.S. warplanes.
The United States has come under growing pressure to help Amerli, especially after carrying out airstrikes this month to help Iraqi Yazidis, a small religious minority, escape a remote northern mountain where they had sought refuge from advancing militants. Some Shiite politicians and activists accused the White House of bias in favor of the Yazidis, non-Muslim members of Iraq’s ethnic Kurdish minority, which has long had good relations with Washington.
“We want to see the U.S. government acting for justice,” said Ali Bayati, a doctor in Amerli, many of whose residents are distant relatives from the Bayati tribe. “The Yazidis are like us. America should deal with Arabs, Turkmen, Christians, all Iraqis in the same manner.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will use a NATO summit this week to push for a coalition of countries to beat back incursions in Syria and Iraq by Islamic State militants who are destabilizing the region and beyond.
“With a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries,” Mr. Kerry wrote in an opinion piece published in The New York Times on Saturday.
Public anger over the beheading of American journalist James Foley has led President Barack Obama to consider military strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria. So far, the United States has limited its actions to the group's forces in Iraq.
The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Reuters contributed.United States military - United States government - Middle East - U.S. Department of Defense - Iraq - Iraq government - Iraqi armed forces