WASHINGTON - The United States has not carried out any air strikes in Iraq but is ready to do so after orders from President Barack Obama, an official said Thursday.
"No air strikes have taken place at this time, but we remain postured to take targeted military action should the situation warrant it," the US official said on condition of anonymity.
The official was briefing reporters after Obama, an outspoken critic of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, said he had authorised humanitarian air drops and potential air strikes to prevent "genocide" against the beleaguered Yazidi minority.
But another official said that Obama did not anticipate a broader military campaign to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Sunni Muslim extremist movement that has swept across Iraq and Syria.
"We are not launching a sustained US campaign against ISIL here, because our belief is the best way to deal with the threat of ISIL over the long term is for the Iraqis to do so," he said.
The official said that Obama had authorised the air strikes if extremists threaten to seize key city of Arbil, the Kurdish region's capital.
"If we see further ISIL advances and actions that threaten Arbil, he has authorised the military to take targeted air action," the official said.
He said that the United States was also ready to strike if Iraqi government troops and the Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga fail to break a siege at a mountain where thousands of Yazidi civilians have fled for their lives.
"The Iraqi security forces and the peshmerga are working to break that siege, but, as with the safety of Arbil, if we see a need to take direct US military action through air strikes to relieve the pressure on the Yazidis, that has been authorised by the president as well," the official said.