NEW DELHI — The U.S. launched its first airstrikes into Iraq today as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned the U.S. military has enough intelligence to clearly single out and hit Islamic militants if they threaten U.S. interests or the thousands of refugees who fled to a mountaintop.
Rear Adm. John Kerry, Pentagon spokesman, said two F/A-18 fighters flying off the aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush in the Persian Gulf dropped two laser-guided 500-pound bombs on an Islamic State artillery piece and the truck towing it. He said it wasn’t clear how many militants may have been hit or killed in the strike. The militants were using the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Irbil, the Pentagon said.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him in India, Hagel also said more than 60 of 72 bundles of food and water airdropped onto the mountain reached the Iraqi religious minorities stranded there.
A day after President Barack Obama authorized the airstrikes and humanitarian aid in northern Iraq, the military said it has the assets and resources in place to launch strikes by manned and unmanned aircraft based in the region.
Asked if the Islamic State group could successfully hide among civilians to evade strikes, Hagel said if the Islamic State moves against Irbil, Baghdad or the refugees on the mountain, “it’s pretty clear who they are, and they would be pretty identifiable where our airstrikes could be effective.”