U.S. fighter jets and drones hit Islamic State vehicles in northern Iraq on Saturday, including some near Mosul Dam, one of the most strategic points taken by the militants last week, American officials said. The officials said Americans launched nine airstrikes in all, also targeting vehicles near Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region. A statement from U.S. Central Command said the strikes destroyed or damaged four armored personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and an armored vehicle. All U.S. aircraft left the area safely, the statement said. Militants from the Islamic State captured Mosul in June and then surged across northern Iraq, taking control of several predominantly Sunni cities. At the time, the jihadist group called itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. Mosul Dam, taken by the Islamic State on Aug. 7, is the largest dam in Iraq. It is located on the Tigris River in the western governorate of Ninawa, upstream from Mosul. The dam provides electricity to the 1.7 million residents of Mosul.
U.S. Central Command said in the statement that the strikes were conducted "under authority to support humanitarian efforts in Iraq, as well as to protect U.S. personnel and facilities."
The U.S. has launched dozens of airstrikes on the Islamic State and its equipment in the past week, since President Barack Obama authorized U.S. forces to protect the country's facilities in Erbil and to help humanitarian aid reach civilians threatened by the militants.
The Islamic State has been blamed for massacres of people who refused to convert to the Sunni faith. There have been reports, too, of people dying of thirst as they took to the mountains to escape the militants.
Although Islamic State forces have not been able to take over Erbil, which lies 57 miles (92 kilometers) southwest of Mosul, the militants still pose a threat to the city.
The so-called Islamic State seeks to establish a caliphate in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria, erasing national boundaries drawn by Europeans in the wake of World War I.