Obama: U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq a 'long-term project'



(CNN) -- The United States expanded its Iraq air campaign over the weekend to beat back Islamist militants determined to kill members of a religious minority.

Fighter jets and drones struck ISIS fighters firing on ethnic Yazidis near the northern town of Sinjar, where extremists had driven tens of thousands fleeing into nearby mountains.

Iraqi officials said U.S. airstrikes Saturday killed 16 fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the extremist militia that calls itself the Islamic State.
Photos: Iraq under siege Photos: Iraq under siege

An Iraqi airstrike in Sinjar killed an additional 45 ISIS fighters and injured 60 on Friday, Iraq state media reported.

Airdrops not enough

On Saturday, three U.S. cargo planes, accompanied by U.S. fighter jets, airdropped 3,804 gallons of fresh drinking water and 16,128 ready-to-eat meals to Yazidis stranded in the mountains, the military said.

But the airstrikes and humanitarian airdrops aren't enough to help the estimated 40,000 Yazidis, a United Nations official said.

The group comprises ethnic Kurds who practice a religion that draws from Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Judaism. ISIS considers all who do not practice their strict interpretation of Sunni Islam heretics and executes them.

It has placed the heads of it victims on spikes in cities it has captured and posted videos of savage executions online.

60 children dead

Iraqi security forces have only been able to airlift about 100 to 150 people a day off of Sinjar Mountain, said Marizio Babille of UNICEF, the UN's children agency. And time is running out for many who cannot reach the airdropped supplies.

Dozens, including 60 children, have died on the mountain, where the Yazidis are battling extreme temperatures, hunger and thirst.

Britain and France have said they will join the United States in the airdrops. And on Sunday, a British C130 cargo plane delivered aid supplies to Iraq, a Ministry of Defense spokesman said.

But UNICEF wants to see international actors help open a humanitarian corridor over land -- a safe escape route -- to evacuate the besieged people.

Protecting U.S. interests

Last week, President Barack Obama authorized targeted attacks not only to protect Iraqi minorities from ISIS' murderous rampage, but also Americans stationed in the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil.

Hundreds of U.S. military personnel are in Iraq, including advisers sent in recently to coordinate local military officials fighting ISIS. Many of them and U.S. consular staff are based in Irbil.

Obama cautioned that the campaign will be a "long-term project." "I don't think we're going to solve this problem in weeks," the President told reporters Saturday.

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