Republicans and intelligence experts on Thursday cheered the beginning of airstrikes in northern Iraq that Kurdish and Iraqi officials said were led by the U.S. to counter the death threats by Islamic State militants against the tens of thousands of Christians who have been forced to flee Iraq and Syria.
"The Kurds are our friends," former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra said. "We ought to be doing everything we can we can to help the Kurds, both militarily and providing humanitarian relief — and we need to do it now.
"This is not only an effort to contain ISIS," he added. "We've got to contain them, but we have to defeat them. We can't leave them in a position where they are controlling one-third of Iraq."
The New York Times reported late Thursday
that bombing had been reported, though Pentagon officials firmly denied any U.S. involvement. President Barack Obama later announced that he had authorized airstrikes if necessary to protect U.S. personnel.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the ISIS attacks on minorities and urged international support for the Iraqi government.
The council said that the attacks could constitute crimes against humanity and that those responsible should be held accountable. The U.N. also was considering whether to drop food and water to the Christian minorities who are living on Mount Sinjar.
As many as 40,000 Christians are said to be living on the mountaintop
. ISIS fighters remain at its base.
The Islamic State group seized Iraq's largest hydroelectric dam earlier Thursday, giving them control of huge power and water resources and leverage over the Tigris River that runs through central Baghdad.
The militants took control of large chunks of northern and western Iraq in a blitz offensive in June, including Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul. The violence has pushed Iraq into its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops.
"It's an emergency, humanitarian situation," retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden told Newsmax before Obama's announcement. "These poor people are at risk through no fault of their own."
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham warned, however, that any airstrikes would do little good unless they are followed up by airstrikes in Syria, where ISIS also controls several cities.
"Three years ago, Sen. [John] McCain and I were saying you better deal with Syria because it's going to consume the whole region," Graham told Wolf Blitzer on CNN
earlier Thursday. "You can bide time by hitting them in Iraq, but if you don't hit them in Syria you're going to be right at it again."
Further, if airstrikes don't keep ISIS out of Lebanon and Jordan, ground troops might be necessary, Graham said. He and McCain are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
While Graham acknowledged that Americans have little appetite for yet another, he said: "This doesn't get better by ignoring it. They're not going to defeat themselves."
"Everybody's war weary," the senator said, "but I hope they're not so weary that you won't defend the homeland."
Hoekstra, who chaired the House panel from 2004 to 2007 as a Michigan Republican, said that he hoped Obama decided on airstrikes. He spoke to Newsmax before Obama's announcement.
"I welcome it — and let's get going. Let's get going on the military strikes and the humanitarian relief. The Kurds deserve it. We've let them down once before in 1991, and we shouldn't do it again."
Hoekstra was referring to the time just after the Persian Gulf War, when the regime of then-President Saddam Hussein violently suppressed uprisings among the Kurds in the north, as well the Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq, according to a Cox News Service report
The unrest occurred in March after President George H.W. Bush twice called on the Iraqis to rebel. The president's words were viewed by Shiites as a pledge of American military support that never materialized, according to the Cox report.
More than 30,000 Shiites died in the rebellion — and tens of thousands more fled to Iran.
"I think the president going about this in a very deliberative way is OK, but at some point in time, you have to come to the point where you have to make a decision," Hoekstra told Newsmax. "With the gains that ISIS appears to be making, that decision point is now."
Top intelligence officials have warned Congress that ISIS, left unchecked, could become a threat on American soil.
"I'm sorry that the world is as screwed up as it is," Graham told CNN. "I don't know what makes these guys tick.
"They're cutting people's heads off, they're crucifying Christians, they're about to wipe out one of the most ancient people in the region — and they're coming after us next."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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