WASHINGTON — U.S. military aircraft conducted an airstrike on Friday against Islamic State artillery used against Kurdish forces defending the city of Arbil, Iraq, near U.S. personnel, a Pentagon spokesman said.
Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Arbil, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
He said the Islamic rebels had been using the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Arbil where U.S. personnel are located.
"The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief," he said.
Kirby said the strike occurred at 6:45 a.m. EDT, or 1:45 p.m. in Arbil (1045 GMT).
On Thursday U.S. President Barack Obama authorized air strikes on Iraq to protect Christians and avert "a potential act of genocide" of tens of thousands of members of the ancient Yazidi sect who have taken refuge on a desert mountaintop from Islamic State forces.
The United States has also begun dropping relief supplies to the refugees.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned the U.S. military has enough intelligence to clearly single out and hit Islamic militants if they threaten U.S. interests or the thousands of refugees who fled to a mountaintop.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him in India, Hagel also said that more than 60 of 72 bundles of food and water airdropped onto the mountain reached the Iraqi religious minorities stranded there.
A day after President Barack Obama authorized the airstrikes and humanitarian aid in northern Iraq, the military said it has the assets and resources in place to launch strikes by manned and unmanned aircraft based in the region.
Asked if the Islamic State group could successfully hide among civilians to evade strikes, Hagel said if the Islamic State moves against Irbil, Baghdad or the refugees on the mountain, "it's pretty clear who they are, and they would be pretty identifiable where our airstrikes could be effective."
According to a U.S. official, the military will use F-16 and F/A 18 fighter jets based in the region for strikes, and cargo aircraft based in Kuwait, for any additional humanitarian aid drops.
In addition, the aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush — which carries F/A-18s — is in the Persian Gulf, and Apache helicopters are based in Baghdad.
Kirby said Friday that Gen. Lloyd Austin, who heads U.S. Central Command, has the authority and the assets he needs to order strike any moment.