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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama announced Thursday night he had authorized the U.S. military to launch targeted airstrikes if needed to protect Americans from Islamic militants in northern Iraq, threatening to revive U.S. military involvement in the country's long sectarian war.
He also said the U.S. military had carried out airdrops of humanitarian aid to Iraqi religious minorities under siege by the extremists.
"Today America is coming to help," he said in a late-night statement from the White House.
The announcements reflected the deepest American engagement in Iraq since U.S. troops withdrew in late 2011 after nearly a decade of war.
Obama said the humanitarian airdrops were made at the request of the Iraqi government. The food and water supplies were delivered to the tens of thousands of Yazidis trapped on a mountain without food and water. The Yazidis, who follow an ancient religion with ties to Zoroastrianism, fled their homes after the Islamic State group issued an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a religious fine, flee their homes or face death.
Obama acknowledged that the prospect of a new round of U.S. military action would be a cause for concern among many Americans. He vowed anew not to put American combat troops back on the ground in Iraq and said there was no U.S. military solution to the crisis.
"As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be drawn into fighting another war in Iraq," Obama said.