Updated Aug. 10, 10:47 a.m. ET
The Pentagon continued Saturday to direct airstrikes against Iraqi militants and carry out supply drops for vulnerable refugees after President Barack Obama said he doesn’t have an end date in mind for American aerial involvement in Iraq.
“I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks,” Obama told reporters before departing Washington for a family vacation. “This is going to take some time.”
The U.S. military continued to attack militant targets on Sunday, using both fighters and drones to help defend Kurdish forces near Irbil. Three Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) trucks and a mortar position were destroyed in overnight raids.
Obama said that airstrikes, which began Friday, have destroyed weapons that would have been used by ISIS to continue its offensive into northern Iraq. He also announced that France and the United Kingdom have agreed to help provide humanitarian assistance to tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees stranded on Mount Sinjar surrounded by ISIS fighters.
“We feel confident we can prevent ISIL from going up the mountain and slaughtering people who are there,” Obama said, using an alternative acronym for the militant group. He added that the next step will be securing the refugees a path to safety.
Obama’s statement came hours before U.S. forces conducted a third successful airdrop involving one C-17 and two C-130 cargo aircraft dropping a total of 72 bundles of supplies, including food and water for thousands of citizens on Iraq’s Mount Sinjar. The civilians, largely ethnic Yazidi, sought shelter on the mountain as Kurdish forces have suffered setbacks at the hands of the Islamist militant group. The supply drop included 3,804 gallons of drinking water and 16,128 ready-to-eat meals.
“To date, in coordination with the government of Iraq, U.S. military aircraft have delivered more than 52,000 meals and more than 10,600 gallons of fresh drinking water, providing much-needed aid to the displaced Yazidis, who urgently require emergency assistance,” the Pentagon said in a statement. American officials said the drops will continue as long as there is a humanitarian need, adding they expect that need to continue for some time.
Months after suggesting the group was “JV” compared to core al Qaeda, Obama acknowledged Saturday that ISIS had caught American intelligence officials and lawmakers flat-footed. “I think that there is no doubt that their advance, their movement has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and the expectations of policymakers,” he said.
Obama said a long-term solution to the crisis requires new political leadership on the part of the Iraqi government, calling on leaders there to form “an inclusive government” and for all ethnic groups to join together to oppose ISIS. “This is going to be a long-term project,” he said.
The president also defended his administration from critics who argue he should have American ground forces in Iraq. “As if this was my decision,” Obama protested. He said “the reason we did not have a follow-on force in Iraq is a majority of Iraqis did not want our troops there.”
The third humanitarian airdrop accompanied four airstrike missions carried out by U.S. fighters and remotely piolted aircraft on ISIS forces threatening the Yazidis, destroying four armored armored personal carriers and an armed truck.
The United States’ military interest in Iraq extends to protecting American military personnel and civilians in the Kurdish city of Erbil, which is the location of a U.S. consulate. President Barack Obama authorized both the humanitarian and military operations Thursday night.
“We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad,” Obama said Thursday in a primetime statement from the White House. But Obama ruled out any U.S. ground forces becoming involved in the battle against ISIS. “American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq,” he said. Obama also told The New York Times in an interview posted late Friday that the U.S. would not become “the Iraqi air force,” while arguing the U.S. has a “strategic interest in pushing back” against the Islamist group.
Hundreds of American troops are already in Iraq, advising Iraqi security forces and protecting U.S. facilities.
On Friday, U.S. Central Command released footage of the first humanitarian airdrop carried out Thursday night:
U.S. Central Command also released video footage of two of the airstrikes carried out Friday:
With reporting by Sam Frizell