THE US has sent aircraft to bomb fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) in a desperate attempt to stop their advance on the Kurdish capital, Erbil.

Two F-18 jets dropped 500lb laser-guided bombs on mobile artillery firing in support of advancing Isis forces that are half an hour's drive from the city.

The US decision to intervene comes after the surprise defeat of Kurdish Peshmerga forces by Isis, which has captured a quarter of Iraq and a third of Syria in the past two months.

The air strikes, were the first US military intervention in Iraq since 2011, when its last troops withdrew.

President Barack Obama authorised the attacks to protect Christians being driven from their homes and to avert "a potential act of genocide" against tens of thousands of Yazidis, an ancient sect denounced by Isis as "polytheists".

Many Yazidis have taken refuge on a mountain top in Sinjar to escape massacre and are receiving relief supplies dropped by US aircraft.

The latest Isis offensive in northern Iraq has shown the Peshmerga, the fighting forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), to be weaker than expected.

They have offered little effective resistance in Sinjar and have failed to protect Christian towns and villages in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital.

In a humiliating series of reverses they have retreated back to Kalak, a town on the Greater Zaab river which is the last defensible position on the road to Erbil.

The US will have to do more than launch limited air strikes if Isis is to be stopped.

Since the self-styled "Islamic State" captured Mosul on 10 June it has taken most of northern and western Iraq and last month scored a series of victories in eastern Syria against the Syrian army and Syrian rebel groups.

The Kurds have lost the Mosul dam on the Tigris river, enabling Isis to control the flow of water and electricity from a hydroelectric power station.

Isis could blow the dam, sending a 65ft-high wall of water down the Tigris Valley, but is unlikely to do so because territory it already holds would be worst affected.

The Kurds did not expect to be targeted by Isis at this time, believing that it was fully engaged in Syria and further south against the Iraqi army.

The Peshmerga were over-extended after the KRG had expanded its territory by 40 per cent via an opportunistic land-grab following the fall of Mosul, when it took districts long disputed with the Arabs.

This left the KRG with a 600-mile-long frontier to defend against Isis, with the Peshmerga, whose high military reputation is based on battles against Saddam Hussein a quarter of a century ago.

More on this at The Independent


In Photos: Conflict in Iraq August 2014:


US to use 'targeted air strikes' in Iraq

UNITED States President Barack Obama has green-lit "targeted airstrikes" in an effort to halt the extremist and ruthless forces as they lay siege to civilians and threaten America's own assets in Iraq.

In a broadcast announcement, the President repeatedly stressed that it was not his intention for the US to again become entangled in "another war in Iraq" but as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL gathered pace, there was little choice but to act.

Between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians are believed to be trapped on Iraq's Mount Sinjar since being driven from nearby villages and townships last weekend.

Unable to descend from their safe-haven while ISIL forces remain in place, the civilians are now beginning to die of thirst and hunger.

The President said after a request from the Iraqi Government for help, the United States would deliver humanitarian aid to those facing destruction, while delivering "targeted strikes" against ISIL convoys if they move towards the Iraqi cities of Erbil or Baghdad which could put US personnel at risk.

"To stop the advance on Erbil, I've directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move towards the city," he said.

"We intend to stay vigilant and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad.

"We're also providing urgent assistance to Iraqi Government and Kurdish forces so they can more effectively wage the fight against ISIL."

Mr Obama said as ISIL has gained ground, "Iraqis have been displaced and chilling reports describe ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions and enslaving women".

"Meanwhile, ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire aside people which would constitute genocide."

He said with the support of Iraq's government, the US would help.

"When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, I believe the US cannot turn a blind eye. We can act carefully and responsibility to avert a potential act of genocide."

Mr Obama said he would not allow the United States to be "dragged into" fighting another war in Iraq.

There would be no ground troops dispatched.

But through air strikes and aid drops, the President said the US would attempt to stop a potential act of genocide.

"While America has never been able to right every wrong, it has made the world a more secure and prosperous place".

"That's why people all over the world look to the United States of America to lead.

"That's why we do."