THE US military launched air strikes against Islamic militants today as Barack Obama agreed action was needed to “prevent genocide”.
He added that the US would act “carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide”.
This afternoon, two F/A-18 aircraft dropped laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece used by Islamic State fighters who have been advancing on the city of Irbil.
Sunni fighters from the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot bent on establishing a caliphate and eradicating unbelievers, have swept through northern Iraq since June.
Their advance has dramatically accelerated in the past week when they routed Kurdish troops near the Kurdish autonomous region in the north.
Thousands of Iraqi religious minorities, including Christians and Yazidis have been forced to flee their homes and are now trapped on Mount Sinjar, surrounded by militants, in desperate need of food and water.
They have been ordered to convert or die.
The strike marks the first time the US has struck Iraq since it pulled its troops out in 2011.
Today America is coming to help
UK leaders have announced they will drop humanitarian aid for the tens of thousands of refugees but have so far insisted Britain will not take any military action.
More than 60 bundles of food and water have been airdropped onto the mountain, with more to come in the next hours and days.
Yazidi lawmaker Mahma Khalil, who is in touch with Yazidis sheltering on Sinjar mountain, said more aid was needed..
“Please save us! SOS! save us!” he said several times. “Our people are in the desert. They are exposed to a genocide.”
Earlier, David Cameron insisted the world must help Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority in their “hour of desperate need” as he backed potential US airstrikes in the north of the country.
The Prime Minister said he “utterly condemns the barbaric attacks” by Islamic “terrorists” across the region, adding he is “especially concerned” for the community trapped on Mount Sinjar.
He welcomed US president Barack Obama’s decision to accept the Iraqi government’s request for help and to conduct airstrikes if necessary to help Iraqi forces “fight back” to free the trapped civilians.
Mr Cameron added that he had tasked officials to urgently establish what more can be done to help those people affected, but Downing Street confirmed there would be no UK military action.
The Tory leader went on: “I am extremely concerned by the appalling situation in Iraq and the desperate situation facing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. And I utterly condemn the barbaric attacks being waged by Isil terrorists across the region.
“I am especially concerned for the minority Yazidi community now trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they have fled for their lives.
“They fear slaughter if they descend back down the slopes but face starvation and dehydration if they remain on the mountain. The world must help them in their hour of desperate need.
“I welcome president Obama’s decision to accept the Iraqi government’s request for help and to conduct targeted US airstrikes, if necessary, to help Iraqi forces as they fight back against Isil terrorists to free the civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar.
“And I fully agree with the president that we should stand up for the values we believe in – the right to freedom and dignity, whatever your religious beliefs.”
“We are offering technical assistance in that in terms of refuelling and surveillance.
“We are offering aid of our own which we hope to drop over the next couple of days in support of the American relief effort, particularly to help the plight of those who are trapped on the mountain.”
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee and former foreign secretary, said the US was right to intervene.
The Conservative MP, also a former defence secretary, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “The United Nations has what is often referred to as a responsibility to protect.
“That’s a general statement but means when you have some potential humanitarian disaster on a vast scale then you can’t just sit back and say how sad it is, you have to try and intervene.
“Here we have a total of 150,000 people who have fled from their homes and in are danger of losing their lives.”
The Foreign Office advised Britons not to travel to the area, as the situation there deteriorates.
Those already in Kurdistan have been advised to move away from areas close to fighting.
The FCO said it “advises British Nationals against all travel to the areas affected by recent fighting, including those within the Kurdistan Region.
In revised travel guidance, it said: “Those British Nationals already present in the Kurdistan Region should take precautions to remove themselves from areas close to the conflict.