U.S. Warplanes Strike Militants in Iraq

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from The New York Times,

2nd Round of Strikes Hits 8 Sites in North, Pentagon Says.

The aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush

The United States on Friday afternoon launched a second round of airstrikes on Sunni militants in northern Iraq, sending four Navy fighter jets to strike eight targets around Erbil, according to Pentagon officials.

The attacks came hours after an initial wave of strikes by military aircraft and armed drones, escalating the American involvement in Iraq a day after President Obama announced that the United States military was returning to a direct combat role in the country it left in 2011.

Military officials said they believed that the second round of attacks resulted in a number of casualties among the militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Navy fighters launched from the aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush, which has been deployed in the Arabian Sea.

Earlier Friday, two F-18 fighters dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery target that had just begun shelling Erbil, Pentagon officials said. A senior military official said on Friday that the artillery unit hit in the earlier bombing was being towed by a truck toward Erbil.

Mr. Obama said Thursday that he had authorized airstrikes if necessary to break an ISIS siege that has left tens of thousands of refugees stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. But so far, all of the military bombings have been carried out at targets near the Kurdish capital, where the United States has a consulate and where thousands of Americans live.

“The airstrikes are being led by the U.S.A., and pesh merga are attacking with Katyusha,” said Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for the Kurdish fighters, referring to a type of Russian-made tactical rocket.

Britain, a close ally and coalition partner of the United States in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Friday that it would not take part in military action there now but would provide humanitarian aid and technical assistance.

“What we have decided today is to assist the United States in the humanitarian operations that started yesterday,” the British defense secretary, Michael Fallon, said in London on Friday.

Turkey, a NATO ally that borders northern Iraq, said on Friday that it, too, would step up humanitarian aid to the region, news agencies reported.

The leader of the militant group sent a defiant message to the Americans in an audio statement posted on YouTube in June, and recirculated on Twitter on Friday.

“This is the message of the leader of the faithful,” wrote the leader, known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a message addressed to “America, the defender of the cross.”

“You should know, you defender of the cross, that getting others to fight on your behalf will not do for you in Syria as it will not do for you in Iraq. And soon enough, you will be in direct confrontation – forced to do so – God willing. And the sons of Islam have prepared themselves for this day. So wait and we will be waiting too.”

While Kurds welcomed Mr. Obama’s announcement of American assistance, the reaction in Baghdad was mixed.

“Obama’s speech did not delight Iraqis,” said Hakim al-Zamili, a leader of a main Shiite bloc in Parliament, the Sadr faction, who were among the strongest opponents of American involvement in Iraq. “They are looking out for their own interests, not for ours,” he said. “They should have provided Iraq with weapons…”

Another Shiite leader, Sami al-Askeri, who is close to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, said Mr. Obama’s call for airstrikes had come “too late.”

Another Shiite leader, Sami al-Askeri, who is close to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, said Mr. Obama’s call for airstrikes had come “too late.”

The bombing appeared to bolster morale in Erbil on Friday, at least temporarily, according to people there. Fewer cars could be seen at the city gates attempting to leave, they said.

“The bombing changed the mood of the people,” said a pesh merga officer.

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