WASHINGTON — The United States employed drones and piloted fighter jets Friday as it continued to bomb multiple Islamic State targets near Irbil following President Barack Obama’s decision to use force against the rebels.
The air strikes by F/A-18 fighters and remotely piloted aircraft were taken to defend the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where U.S. Special Forces commandos Obama dispatched last month had set up a joint operations center with Iraqi security forces.
The three American bombing raids, carried out within a five-hour window Friday in Iraq, destroyed mortar positions and a convoy of seven vehicles belonging to Islamic State fighters, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said in two statements.
Kirby said the first strike came at approximately 2:45 p.m. in Iraq (6:45 a.m. EDT) when two F/A-18 fighters dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a “mobile artillery piece” that was being used to shell Kurdish forces defending Irbil “where U.S. personnel are located.”
At 6 p.m. (10 a.m. EDT), drones struck “a terrorist mortar position,” Kirby said, and when the Islamist fighters returned to the site moments later, “the terrorists were attacked again and successfully eliminated.”
Eighty minutes later, four F/A-18 aircraft dropped a total of eight laser-guided bombs on “a stationary (Islamic State) convoy of seven vehicles and a mortar position near Irbil,” Kirby said.
The four jet fighters each made two passes over the targets, he said.
In a nationally televised speech Thursday, Obama had said he’d authorized the U.S. military to use force in Iraq to protect American personnel, noting that the Kurdish capital is home to a large American consulate and the new Joint Operations Command Center.
Kirby did not pinpoint the precise locations of the Islamic State targets or where the Kurdish forces were that had come under fire.
The Pentagon also did not provide details on the mobile artillery unit targeted or say whether it was destroyed. The Islamic State is believed to have captured advanced U.S. artillery pieces during its sweep across Iraq in June.
There were also no details on whether the air strikes were coordinated with forces on the ground.
The Islamic State on Thursday captured four towns on the highway that links Irbil with Islamic State-held Mosul, bringing them to within 25 miles of the capital. Kurdish Peshmerga militia have set up a defensive line at Kalak within site of the captured towns, but it was not clear that those were the forces targeted.
Two F/A-18 fighters also accompanied three U.S. cargo aircraft that dropped water and food to an estimated 40,000 members of Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority who are trapped on a mountain by Islamic State forces near the city of Sinjar, but did not fire their weapons, the Pentagon said late Thursday.
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