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Obama authorises airstrikes in Iraq

Obama approved targeted use of air power to blunt the onslaught of Islamic State militants.

FILE: President Barack Obama authorised air strikes to blunt the onslaught of militants in northern Iraq. Picture: AFP.

WASHINGTON/ARBIL Iraq - President Barack Obama s aid on Thursday he had authorised US air strikes to blunt the onslaught of Islamist militants in northern Iraq and began airdrops of supplies to besieged religious minorities to prevent a "potential act of genocide."

Obama, in his most significant response yet to the crisis, said he approved "targeted" use of air power to protect US personnel if Islamic State militants advance further towards Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq, or threaten Americans anywhere in the country.

He said air strikes, which would be the first carried out by the US military in Iraq since its withdrawal in 2011, could also be used if necessary in support of Iraqi and Kurdish forces trying to break the Islamists' siege of a mountaintop where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped.

"Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, 'There is no one coming to help'," said Obama, who had been reluctant to deepen US military re-engagement in Iraq.

"Well, today America is coming to help."

In late-night remarks televised from the White House to a war-weary American public, Obama insisted he would not commit ground forces and had no intention of letting the United States "get dragged into fighting another war in Iraq."

Obama took action amid international fears of a humanitarian catastrophe engulfing tens of thousands of members of Iraq's minority Yazidi sect driven out of their homes and stranded on Sinjar mountain under threat from rampaging militants of Islamic State, an al Qaeda splinter group.

Many Iraqi Christians have also fled for their lives.

"We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide," said Obama, who described the militants as "barbaric."

Obama was responding to urgent appeals from Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to help halt Islamic State's relentless advance across northern Iraq and to deal with the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

However, questions were quickly raised in Washington about whether selective US attacks on militant positions and humanitarian airdrops would be enough to shift the balance on the battlefield against the Islamist forces.

"I completely support humanitarian aid as well as the use of air power," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted after Obama's announcement. "However the actions announced tonight will not turn the tide of battle."