Barack Obama, the US president, has said he will not allow his country to be dragged into another war in Iraq, making it clear that American combat troops will not return to fight in the country.
Speaking in his weekly address on Saturday, Obama vowed to continue air strikes against self-declared jihadists in northern Iraq "if necessary" to protect US diplomats and military advisers.
US fighter jets have bombed positions of the Islamic State group near the city of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, an assault that would allow the federal and Kurdish governments to claw back areas lost in two months of conflict.
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"I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq. American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis there," Obama said.
The US president's order for the first air strikes on the embattled country since he put an end to US occupation in 2011 came after fighters from the Islamic State group made massive gains on the ground, seizing a major dam and forcing a mass exodus of religious minorities.
The Pentagon on Friday said US forces bombed an artillery position after the Islamic State attacked Kurdish regional government forces who are defending Erbil.
Hours later, it said a drone destroyed a mortar position and jets hit a seven-vehicle convoy belonging to the Islamic State with eight laser-guided bombs.
The US operation began with air drops of food and water for thousands of people hiding from the group in a barren northern mountain range.
The UK is also delivering aid and has announced it is sending medics to northern Iraq.
Many people who have been cowering in the Sinjar mountains for five days in searing heat and with no supplies are Yazidis, a minority that follows a 4,000-year-old faith.
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Late Friday, the Pentagon said that cargo planes escorted by combat jets made a second air drop of food and water to "thousands of Iraqi citizens" threatened by the fighters on Sinjar mountain.
Obama accused the Islamic State group, which calls Yazidis "devil-worshippers", of attempting "the systematic destruction of the entire people, which would constitute genocide".
Washington's 'broader strategy'
The UN said it was "urgently preparing a humanitarian corridor".
Kurdish peshmerga forces, short of ammunition and stretched thin along a huge front, had been forced to retreat in the face of brazen assaults by the Islamic State.
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Their withdrawal from the Christian heartland on Wednesday and Thursday sparked a mass exodus - 100,000 people according to Iraq's Chaldean patriarch - and spurred Western powers into action.
"Fighters captured US-made weapons as Kurdish troops withdrew from various regions. Washington also wants to address that," Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from Erbil, said.
In his address, Obama laid out Washington's "broader strategy" in Iraq:
"We will protect our citizens. We will work with the international community to address this humanitarian crisis. We’ll help prevent these terrorists from having a permanent safe haven from which to attack America. And we’ll continue to urge Iraqi communities to reconcile," he said.
Obama came to office determined to end US military involvement in Iraq, and in his first term oversaw the withdrawal of the huge ground force deployed there since the 2003 American-led invasion.
But the capture of huge swathes of land by the Islamic State group, who in late June proclaimed a "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq, has brought a country already rife with sectarian tension closer to collapse.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies