Media Lose Sight Of U.S. Strategy Against Islamic State In Frenzy Over "Manageable Problem"

››› ››› ELLIE SANDMEYER, MICHELLE LEUNG & OLIVIA KITTEL

Media outlets are overlooking President Obama's consistent emphasis on eliminating the threat posed by the extremist group the Islamic State -- and the U.S. airstrikes against it -- to fixate on Obama's recent reference to shrinking the group's influence to a "manageable problem."

Obama Addresses Islamic State Threat Ahead Of NATO Summit

Obama Gives Statement On Islamic State Violence Ahead Of NATO Conference. During a September 3 news conference at the start of a NATO summit in Europe, Obama gave a statement about the United States' broad military strategy against Islamic State militants and about the beheading of two American journalists.

"Our objective is clear, and that is: degrade and destroy ISIL so that it's no longer a threat, not just to Iraq but also to the region and to the United States," Mr. Obama said, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He was speaking at a news conference here on the eve of a NATO summit meeting in Wales, as pressure built for him to articulate a broader military strategy to take on the ISIS militants.

"It's not only that we're going to be bringing to justice those who perpetrated this terrible crime against these two fine young men," the president said. "The United States will continue to lead a regional and international effort against the kind of barbaric and ultimately empty vision" the group represents.

[...]

Mr. Obama said that if the United States is joined by the international community, "we can continue to shrink ISIL's sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem." [The New York Times9/3/14]

Were Obama's Remarks On The Islamic State Contradictory?

Media Claim Obama's Rhetoric On Islamic State Strategy Is "Contradictory"

Fox's Ed Henry: Obama's Statements "At Odds With Themselves" On Islamic State Strategy. On the September 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, White House correspondent Ed Henry focused on Obama's "manageable problem" statement to portray Obama's strategy on the Islamic State as inconsistent, saying Obama's statements were "at odds with themselves" and claiming that if the Islamic State is "a manageable problem," that means "it's still out there, it's not destroyed." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/3/14]

Fox's Andrea Tantaros: Obama's Speech Gave "Conflicting Signals On How To Confront The ISIS Threat." On the September 3 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, co-host Andrea Tantaros claimed Obama's remarks were "conflicting" and played two portions of Obama's remarks. [Fox News, Outnumbered9/3/14]

Time: "Obama Offered A Muddled Vision." Time's coverage of the September 3 news conference noted Obama's comments on the killing of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff and went on to focus heavily on his supposed "muddled vision" for responding to the Islamic State, framing his comments as contradictory:

But Obama offered a muddled vision for taking on the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), first saying the U.S. objective is to "degrade and destroy" the group, before saying his strategy is to contain the threat, rather than seeking to eliminate the group entirely.

"Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy [ISIS] so that it's no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States," Obama said.

But moments later the president said wiping out the extremist group, which has taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria, is not an achievable goal, but that the U.S. can still mitigate the threat it poses. "Our objective is to make sure that [ISIS] is not an ongoing threat to the region," Obama said. "And we can accomplish that."

The commander-in-chief added that it was unrealistic to expect that the entire organization can be dismantled. "As we've seen with al-Qaeda, there are always going to be remnants that can cause havoc," he said. [Time.com, 9/3/14]

Obama Repeatedly Emphasized Objective Is To Degrade Islamic State Until It Is No Longer A Threat

Obama: "Our Objective Is To Make Sure That ISIL Is Not An Ongoing Threat To The Region." Obama's September 3 statement on the U.S.' strategy to defeat ISIS was consistent with the objective to defeat ISIS to the point that they are no longer a threat to Iraq or the United States. Obama pointed out that due to the nature of terrorism there would always be remnants of the terror network, and that combating them would have to be an international effort (emphasis added):

So the bottom line is this: Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL so that it's no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States. In order for us to accomplish that, the first phase has been to make sure that we've got an Iraqi government that's in place and that we are blunting the momentum that ISIL was carrying out. And the airstrikes have done that.

But now what we need to do is make sure that we've got the regional strategy in place that can support an ongoing effort -- not just in the air but on the ground -- to move that forward.

And last week when this question was asked, I was specifically referring to the possibility of the military strategy inside of Syria that might require congressional approval. It is very important from my perspective that when we send our pilots in to do a job, that we know that this is a mission that's going to work, that we're very clear on what our objectives are, what our targets are; we've made the case to Congress and we've made the case to the American people; and we've got allies behind us so that it's not just a one-off, but it's something that over time is going to be effective.

And so the bottom line is this, Ann -- it's not only that we're going to be bringing to justice those who perpetrated this terrible crime against these two fine young men. More broadly, the United States will continue to lead a regional and international effort against the kind of barbaric and ultimately empty vision that ISIL represents. And that's going to take some time, but we're going to get it done. I'm very confident of it.

Q. Did you just say that the strategy is to destroy ISIS, or to simply contain them or push them back?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Our objective is to make sure that ISIL is not an ongoing threat to the region. And we can accomplish that. It's going to take some time and it's going to take some effort. As we've seen with al Qaeda, there are always going to be remnants that can cause havoc of any of these networks, in part because of the nature of terrorist activities. You get a few individuals, and they may be able to carry out a terrorist act.

But what we can do is to make sure that the kind of systemic and broad-based aggression that we've seen out of ISIL that terrorizes primarily Muslims, Shia, Sunni -- terrorizes Kurds, terrorizes not just Iraqis, but people throughout the region, that that is degraded to the point where it is no longer the kind of factor that we've seen it being over the last several months.

Q Thank you, sir. Just following up on Ann -- will you have this military strategy on ISIS ready for discussion with NATO allies this week? And in your view, what should NATO be prepared to do to take on Islamic State?

[...]

With respect to Iraq, we will be discussing this topic. Even before ISIL dominated the headlines, one of the concerns that we have had is the development of terrorist networks and organizations, separate and apart from al Qaeda, whose focus oftentimes is regional and who are combining terrorist tactics with the tactics of small armies. And we've seen ISIS to be the first one that has broken through, but we anticipated this awhile back and it was reflected in my West Point speech.

So one of our goals is to get NATO to work with us to help create the kinds of partnerships regionally that can combat not just ISIL, but these kinds of networks as they arise and potentially destabilize allies and partners of ours in the region.

Already we've seen NATO countries recognize the severity of this problem, that it is going to be a long-run problem. Immediately, they've dedicated resources to help us with humanitarian airdrops, to provide arms to the Peshmerga and to the Iraqi security forces. And we welcome those efforts. What we hope to do at the NATO Summit is to make sure that we are more systematic about how we do it, that we're more focused about how we do it.

NATO is unique in the annals of history as a successful alliance. But we have to recognize that threats evolve, and threats have evolved as a consequence of what we've seen in Ukraine, but threats are also evolving in the Middle East that have a direct effect on Europe.

And to go back to what I said earlier to Ann, we know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISIL's sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem. And the question is going to be making sure we've got the right strategy, but also making sure that we've got the international will to do it. This is something that is a continuation of a problem we've seen certainly since 9/11, but before. And it continues to metastasize in different ways.

And what we've got to do is make sure that we are organizing the Arab world, the Middle East, the Muslim world along with the international community to isolate this cancer, this particular brand of extremism that is, first and foremost, destructive to the Muslim world and the Arab world and North Africa, and the people who live there. They're the ones who are most severely affected. They're the ones who are constantly under threat of being killed. They're the ones whose economies are completely upended to the point where they can't produce their own food and they can't produce the kinds of goods and services to sell in the world marketplace. And they're falling behind because of this very small and narrow, but very dangerous, segment of the population. And we've got to combat it in a sustained, effective way. And I'm confident we're going to be able to do that. [WhiteHouse.gov, 9/3/14]

Did Obama Reveal Confusion Over Defeating Islamic State By Saying Objective Is To Reduce Group To A "Manageable Problem"?

Media Fixate On Obama's "Manageable Problem" Line To Paint Him As Irresolute On Combating Islamic State

ABC News' Jon Karl: "Making ISIS A 'Manageable Problem' Sounds Like A Far Cry From Destroying It." On ABC News' political blog The Note, White House correspondent Jon Karl reported that in Obama's remarks in Estonia, the president "seemed to significantly backtrack" on whether the U.S. seeks to destroy the Islamic State, pointing to the "manageable problem" language:

[President Obama] offered a mixed message today about what exactly the United States wants to do about ISIS.

At first, the president offered what seemed to be an unambiguous goal.

[...]

But when ABC News Radio White House correspondent Ann Compton today asked the president to clarify whether the United States now wants ISIS destroyed, the president seemed to significantly backtrack.

"Our objective is to make sure they aren't an ongoing threat to the region," he said.

Then, in response to another question, he seemed to backtrack even further: "We know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISIL's sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its military capability to the point where it is a manageable problem."

Making ISIS a "manageable problem" sounds like a far cry from destroying it. [ABC News, The Note, 9/3/14]

Laura Ingraham: "This Is Not A Manageable Problem. This Is A Force That Is Evil." The September 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends jumped on the "manageable problem" line in Obama's speech to suggest the White House is pushing two incompatible strategies to deal with the Islamic State. Network contributor Laura Ingraham, also an ABC News contributor, said Obama's language "doesn't make sense," going on:

INGRAHAM: We manage all sorts of problems in our daily lives. This is not a manageable problem. This is a force that is evil. It would be nice if the president actually used the word 'evil' -- if he said it, I didn't hear it this morning -- an evil force that is raping children, that is torturing little boys and girls, that is seeking to establish a global caliphate and infiltrate the United States of America through our very porous borders. So the president needs to have the type of resolve that I think we as individuals have when we see and read the truth about what the Islamic State desires. Which is a world way beyond Iraq and Syria, and it must be destroyed. Each and every one of them needs to be killed and stopped.

A manageable problem? Containable problem? I don't like that language at all. I think that, again, fuzzes up the situation beyond what we need it to be right now. [Fox News, Fox & Friends9/3/14]

Fox & Friends' Steve Doocy: "Which Is It? Is It Destroy Or Manage" The Islamic State? On the same Fox & Friends program, co-host Steve Doocy pointed to Obama's "manageable problem" line and asked Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), "Which is it? Is it destroy or manage? Can you do both?" [Fox News, Fox & Friends9/3/14

Ingraham: "I Wonder If Steven Sotloff Would Think It Was A Manageable Problem, Or James Foley." Later on The Laura Ingraham Show, host Ingraham invoked American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff -- murdered by the Islamic State -- to criticize Obama's reference to a "manageable problem," asking whether the two men would consider the Islamic State "just a problem to be managed." [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show9/3/14]

White House's Multifaceted Approach Is In Line With Assessment Of Situation By Experts And Defense Officials

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. KirbyWhite House And Pentagon Strategy On Islamic State Aims To Manage Threat Until Ideology Can Be Destroyed. Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby shot down suggestions that aiming to destroy the Islamic State and manage the problem of its underlying ideology are conflicting goals and affirmed the necessity of the White House's approach to the Islamic State on the September 3 edition of Fox & Friends, explaining, "The only way you're going to destroy an organization like this is by defeating their ideology. You can bomb them every day and you're not going to get rid of the ideology that allows them to fester and it continue to get resource and to grow, train and to equip. The only way to defeat the ideology is good governance." From Fox & Friends:

DOOCY: Admiral, [Obama] did say the strategy was to destroy ISIS. But he also said the goal was to make it a manageable problem. So that's two different things. One is to destroy, the other is to manage it. From the Pentagon point of view, which one is it?

KIRBY: It's actually both. And I know that sounds a bit strange to hear.

DOOCY: It does. You can't have both.

KIRBY: But the only way you're going to destroy an organization like this is by defeating their ideology. You can bomb them every day and you're not going to get rid of the ideology that allows them to fester and to continue to get resources and to grow, train, and to equip. The only way to do that, to defeat the ideology, is good governance, good governance in Iraq and good governance in Syria. Now we've got a unity government standing up in Iraq, and that's a good thing and it's promising. We don't have any good governance in Syria. The Assad regime continues to kill their own people and just -- you just deprave the whole countryside, and so that's a problem. And we've got to look for ways to work with the moderate Syrian opposition to try to enable good governance to grow inside Syria. But that's not going to be an overnight solution. And as I said yesterday when I was in my press conference here, I know that doesn't make good copy for Pentagon reporters, because they're used to seeing us destroy things. And there's a part of that, there's a piece of that, there's a role for that, but it's not going to be the ultimate solution. [Fox News, Fox & Friends9/3/14]

Secretary Of Defense Chuck Hagel: The President's Statement "Was Pretty Clear" That The Strategy Is "To Degrade And Destroy The Capability Of ISIL." On the September 3 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom, Sec. Chuck Hagel explained how the White House's strategy to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic State was "very clear," emphasizing how the multifaceted, long-term approach to defeating the terrorist group will include a stable, inclusive Iraqi government in addition to military support:

HAGEL: I think the president's statement, which I did read, and where both he and the vice president's news conference, was pretty clear: to degrade and destroy the capability of ISIL to come after U.S. interests all over the world, and our allies. However, the way he addressed that later in the news conference, I wasn't aware of that. But, our mission, as you have asked us, what that mission is, based on what the commander in chief has asked of us, is to provide him those options and those plans to accomplish the mission of destroy and degrade the capability of ISIS. We are doing that as the president said, not just militarily, because that is but one component. The president has been very clear on that point. 

But it also requires a stable, new, inclusive government in Iraq, which we are hopeful will be in place next week. It is the people of Iraq, the people of the Middle East that will make their ultimate decisions and determine their future. We can support them. 

It's also bringing a group with us of like-minded countries that appreciate the threat that ISIL represents to all of us, and I think you know many of the countries, France, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Albania, others, to bring that coalition with us. That's another part of it. 

Authorizations, air strikes, budget issues. The president has been very clear he wants the Congress involved with him. We've been consulting with the Congress. So it's all of those components, but the mission is very clear, and we're providing the president with those options to degrade and destroy ISIL's capability. [CNN, CNN Newsroom9/3/14]

Brookings Counterterrorism Expert Daniel Benjamin: Destroying Islamic State Depends On Coordination Of Local Partners. In an op-ed originally published in The Boston Globe, Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Daniel Benjamin, director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College and former ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counter-terrorism for the State Department, explained how the strategy to defeat the Islamic State rests on coordination with local partners. He explained, "We can't stop every solo operative who gets his hands on a rifle or even gunpowder and ball bearings -- but that reality doesn't threaten our existence":

These risks, however, don't argue for abandoning the administration's current targeted strategy in Iraq and instead launching a wide-ranging air campaign. To begin with, bombing insurgent formations isn't going to reduce terrorism. The cells to worry over aren't headed toward Erbil or Baghdad.

More importantly, to deal with a terrorist group like the Islamic State requires local partners, and those partners will have to be Iraqis. That's why it is vital that a new government is formed in Baghdad with a renewed effort at inclusiveness among Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds. As the White House recognizes, if that effort fails, and the sectarianism persists, Iraq will disintegrate. And if the United States takes ownership of fighting the Islamic State, Iraq's common security problem, there'd be little incentive for cooperation. Ultimately, a more fearsome civil war will occur, and the danger to the West will expand exponentially. Terrorists thrive in conflict zones.

Yes, we probably have a confrontation with the Islamic State -- a group with a desire to kill Americans in its DNA -- in our future. It's a good bet that within a year or two, there will be extensive American intelligence operations throughout Iraq, and US drones flying its skies. As we head toward that eventuality, however, we should remember the critical advances (despite Edward Snowden) in US intelligence gathering since 9/11. We can't stop every solo operative who gets his hands on a rifle or even gunpowder and ball bearings -- but that reality doesn't threaten our existence. And hysteria and missteps in the field aren't going to make us safer. [The Brookings Institute, 8/17/14]

Foreign Policy Experts: Military Force Is Only Part Of An Effective Counterinsurgency Strategy. Iraqi Government Must Lead. In a blog for The Washington Post, social scientist Christopher Paul and political scientist Colin P. Clarke highlighted their study of seventy-one counterinsurgencies since the end of World War II which demonstrated how a multifaceted approach to combating ISIS, including "tangible support reduction; commitment and motivation; and flexibility and adaptability" would be the most effective strategy. The experts emphasized that the most effective strategy for the U.S. would be to have tangible support from the region lead by Iraqi forces (emphasis added):

U.S. support to an Iraqi counterinsurgency strategy to defeat the Islamic State must focus on reducing tangible support to the insurgents, increasing the commitment and motivation of the Iraqi military and security forces and increasing the government's legitimacy among Iraqi Sunnis.

[...]

Overwhelming firepower and sophisticated technology have never been guarantors of victory in COIN operations. At no time has this been truer than in today's operating environment, where insurgents use the Internet to great effect and use rudimentary materials to construct increasingly deadly improvised explosive devices to counter COIN forces.

Still, military force is merely one part of a sound counterinsurgency approach. To make lasting progress, the newly designated Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, must focus on the legitimacy of the Iraqi government. To do this he will have to reach out in some way to aggrieved Sunni groups - including Baathist militias operating alongside ISIS - to bring the Sunnis back into the fold in something that could resemble an Anbar Awakening-lite. [The Washington Post, 9/2/14]

CNN's Fareed Zakaria: Stopping ISIS Requires Long-Term Solutions To Political And Religious Tension In The Region. On the September 3 edition of CNN's New Day, foreign policy reporter Fareed Zakaria highlighted the necessity that the White House's strategy address long-term political tensions in Iraq and Syria in order to deal with the Islamic State extremists (emphasis added):

KATE BOLDUAN: [Obama] said degrade and destroy. Is it important that he lay that out clearly? Which is it?

ZAKARIA: I think that he clearly has destroy ISIS. I think he probably recognizes that's a tall order. See, what is feeding ISIS at the end of the day - and this is very important to understand -- is the discontent that is felt by Sunnis in both Iraq and Syria. Iraq is run by a Shia majority government. Syria is run by an Alawite government, which is sort of a quasi-Shia government. So in both cases, the Sunnis feel disempowered, dispossessed, discriminated. So that's the fodder, that's the fuel that keeps ISIS.

BOLDUAN: The Sunnis need to want to stand up against ISIS.

ZAKARIA: And so, you have to find a way to get the Sunnis in the front of the battle. So that's why you've got to make the Iraqi army a really non-sectarian force. That's why you've got to find moderate, when we say moderate Syrian rebels, what we mean are Sunnis who are not jihadists. Because otherwisewe're playing into this great regional dynamic of the Shia versus the Sunni, and if all the Sunnis think that the United States is against them, then no matter what we do, we're not going to win.

BOLDUAN: You're gonna lose regardless if you're gonna pick a side in that.

ZAKARIA: Because in the region in general, people need to understand, the region is 90 percent Sunnis. It's not true in Iraq and Syria, but if you add Saudi Arabia, if you add Egypt, if you add all these places, the Sunnis are the dominant majority. They have all the money. They have all the manpower.

BOLDUAN: And Fareed, when you lay it out like that, it seems obvious even though the president restated it again this morning -- This is not a one-week, one-month, or even a six-month proposition in terms of U.S. engagement in trying to degrade or destroy ISIS. [CNN, New Day9/3/14]

Is Obama Doing Anything To Stop The Islamic State?

Media Claim "Obama Is Not Worried" Enough, Isn't Making An Effort Against The Islamic State

National Journal's Ron Fournier: "Is Obama Taking ISIS Seriously Enough?" Reporting on the president's remarks in Estonia in an article headlined, "Is Obama Taking ISIS Seriously Enough?" National Journal's Ron Fournier argued that Obama's has been "maddeningly indecisive, unclear, and defensive" in responding to the Islamic State. Fournier said he was "puzzled by Obama" and criticized Obama's "manageable problem" comment, which he said is "hardly a national rallying cry." [National Journal9/3/14]

Wash. Post's Dana Milbank: "President Obama Is Not Worried. And That Is Unnerving." In an column headlined "President Obama's Unnerving Happy Talk," Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank compared Obama's statements on the threat of the Islamic State at an August 29 event to comments made by British Prime Minister David Cameron and the U.K.'s decision to raise its threat level. Milbank wrote that Obama is being inappropriately "sangui[ne]" and pushing a "chillax message" while neglecting to "reassure Americans that he's got a plan." [The Washington Post9/2/14]

Fox's Charles Krauthammer: "There's No Indication There's A Serious Effort To ... Create A Strategy" To Deal With The Islamic State. On the September 2 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer claimed that the administration has made no effort to develop a plan to combat the Islamic State militants. As FoxNews.com detailed:

Krauthammer noted that the Obama administration has said it is working with its allies and partners to create a coalition to fight the militants, but said such an effort would have to be led by the U.S.

"I hope he's working on it. He doesn't have to strike tomorrow. But there's no indication there's a serious effort to actually, to create a strategy, meaning to create a campaign where we supply the air power, and others are supplying the manpower on the ground," he said. "That's the only answer."

Krauthammer added that he believes the lack of a coherent strategy is only strengthening the terrorist organization.

"Obama and the administration are building up ISIS, even beyond what Obama is doing in its own propaganda," he said. "That's not a good first step in confronting them." [FoxNews.com, 9/2/14]

Obama Has Authorized Airstrikes, Deployed Non-Combat Troops To Respond To Islamic State

Since July, President Obama Authorized Deployment Of More Than 1,100 Troops To Iraq. Washington Post reported on September 2 that President Obama authorized the deployment of 350 additional U.S. military troops to Iraq in response to a State Department request for further protection of U.S. personnel and facilities against the Islamic State. The additional military forces will not serve a combat role and will bring the total number of U.S. military personnel authorized for Iraq since early June to 1,100:

President Obama on Tuesday authorized the deployment of an additional 350 troops to Iraq in response to a State Department request last week for more protection for U.S. personnel and facilities in Baghdad.

"These additional forces will not serve in a combat role," the White House said.

[...] 

The new order brings to more than 1,100 the total number of U.S. military personnel authorized for Iraq since early June, when Islamic State forces began a blitz across the country, seizing towns and cities in the northwest and central parts of the country. [TheWashington Post9/2/14]

Obama Authorized Airstrikes On The Islamic State. Obama authorized airstrikes against the Islamic militants in Iraq on August 7, as the New York Times reported, to protect American diplomats, military advisers, and citizens in Iraq: 

President Obama on Thursday announced he had authorized limited airstrikes against Islamic militants in Iraq, scrambling to avert the fall of the Kurdish capital, Erbil, and returning the United States to a significant battlefield role in Iraq for the first time since the last American soldier left the country at the end of 2011.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday night, Mr. Obama also said that American military aircraft had dropped food and water to tens of thousands of Iraqis trapped on a barren mountain range in northwestern Iraq, having fled the militants, from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, who threaten them with what Mr. Obama called "genocide."

"Earlier this week, one Iraqi cried that there is no one coming to help," Mr. Obama said in a somber statement delivered from the State Dining Room. "Well, today America is coming to help."

The president insisted that these military operations did not amount to a full-scale re-engagement in Iraq. But the relentless advance of the militants, whom he described as "barbaric," has put them within a 30-minute drive of Erbil, raising an immediate danger for the American diplomats, military advisers and other citizens who are based there. [New York Times8/7/14]

Since August, U.S. Has Carried Out Over 120 Airstrikes, Which Along With Help From Allies Have Dealt Damage To The Terrorist Group. As The Washington Post reported, U.S. airstrikes on the Islamic State in Iraq are dealing significant blows to the terrorist group (emphasis added):

Iraqi troops and militias aided by U.S. airstrikes broke through a two-month siege of the town of Amerli on Sunday, opening up a humanitarian corridor to thousands of Shiite Turkmen who had been trapped by Sunni militants and deprived of food, water, and medicine.

"Amerli has been liberated," said Mahdi Taqi, a local official who spoke by phone from inside the town after the army had entered. "There is so much joy and people are cheering in the streets."

Sunni militants from the Islamic State group, which seized much of northern Iraq in June, had surrounded Amerli, cutting off access to supplies and electricity.

[...]

But a short series of U.S. air strikes on Saturday night appeared to quickly tilt the balance in favor of Iraqi government forces.

The three strikes, plus two more on Sunday, were accompanied by humanitarian aid drops by American, British, French and Australian aircraft, the Pentagon said in a statement.

[...]

The United States has carried out 120 strikes in northern Iraq since early August. But the Amerli strikes marked the second time this month that the Pentagon has intervened militarily to prevent a jihadist attack on thousands of trapped civilians.

Earlier in August, the U.S. military carried out limited airstrikes and humanitarian aid drops to help Kurdish pesh merga forces open a humanitarian corridor to thousands of members of Iraq's Yazidi religious minority, who were trapped by the militants on a mountain range in western Iraq. [The Washington Post8/31/14]

Obama Authorized Air Surveillance Of Islamic State In Syria. On August 25, President Obama authorized air surveillance flights over Islamic State's territory in Syria as a precursor to potential airstrikes there. The New York Times reported that the flights are "a significant step toward direct American military action in Syria":

President Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria, a precursor to potential airstrikes there, but a mounting concern for the White House is how to target the Sunni extremists without helping President Bashar al-Assad.

Defense officials said Monday evening that the Pentagon was sending in manned and unmanned reconnaissance flights over Syria, using a combination of aircraft, including drones and possibly U2 spy planes. Mr. Obama approved the flights over the weekend, a senior administration official said.

The flights are a significant step toward direct American military action in Syria, an intervention that could alter the battlefield in the nation's three-year civil war. [New York Times8/25/14

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