WASHINGTON: U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday that U.S. airstrikes had destroyed arms and equipment that Islamic State insurgents could have used to attack Irbil, the Iraqi Kurdish capital, but warned Americans it could take some time to end the crisis.
"I don't think we're going to solve this problem in weeks. This is going to take some time," Obama said during a brief news conference before leaving Washington for a two-week vacation in Massachusetts.
Obama said the United States would continue to provide military assistance and advice to the Baghdad government and Kurdish forces, but stressed repeatedly the importance of Iraq forming its own inclusive government "right now."
"I think this a wake-up call for a lot of Iraqis inside of Baghdad recognizing that we're going to have to rethink how we do business if we're going to hold our country together," he said.
Obama Thursday authorized the U.S. military to make airdrops of humanitarian assistance to prevent what he called a potential "genocide" of the Yazidi religious sect in Iraq and conduct targeted strikes on Islamic State fighters who have been seizing territory in northern Iraq, a limited operation to protect Americans working in the country.
It was the first direct U.S. military action in the country since Obama withdrew U.S. combat troops in 2011, and prompted concerns that Washington is getting involved in an open-ended Iraq project so soon after the costly and bloody war that began in 2003.
Obama said there had been two successful airdrops of food and water. He described next steps, including what would be a more complicated effort to create a safe corridor for the Yazidis to leave the arid mountain where they have been under siege by the Sunni Islamist fighters.
"American aircraft are positioned to strike (Islamic State) terrorists around the mountain to help forces in Iraq break the siege and rescue those who are trapped there," he said.
Obama emphasized that there are no plans to send in U.S. ground troops, again stressing the need for a unified government in Baghdad. "The most important timetable that I'm focused on right now is the Iraqi government getting formed and finalized," he said.
"We should have learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion in Iraq," said the Democratic president, who made his opposition to the war launched by his Republican predecessor George W. Bush a key part of his first successful presidential campaign in 2008.
Obama said he spoke Saturday morning with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande and they had agreed to provide humanitarian assistance for Iraqi civilians.
The jihadi Islamists have captured wide swaths of northern Iraq since June, executing non-Sunni captives and displacing tens of thousands of people.
Obama rejected any suggestion that he had withdrawn U.S. forces from Iraq prematurely, noting that it was Baghdad's decision not to allow troops to stay.
He said the Iraqi operations would not need the U.S. Congress to authorize additional funds for the moment, but he would make that request if it became necessary.