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'No Timetable on Iraq Strikes and Airdrops', says Obama

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, adding that the next step will be securing them a path to safety. Obama’s statement came hours after U.S. forces conducted a second successful airdrop of food and water to the civilians, largely ethnic Yazidi, who sought shelter on the mountain as Kurdish forces have suffered setbacks at the hands of the Islamist militant group. 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.”

According to the Pentagon, one C-17 and two C-130 cargo aircraft participated in Friday’s airdrop, escorted by two F/A-18s from the USS George H.W. Bush.

“To date, in coordination with the government of Iraq, U.S. military aircraft have delivered 36,224 meals and 6,822 gallons of fresh drinking water, providing much-needed aid to Iraqis 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.

The second humanitarian drop followed three strike missions carried out by U.S. forces on ISIS forces threatening Erbil Friday, where dozens of U.S. military personnel are based and 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.

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