The U.S. said it conducted 118 airstrikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq while dropping humanitarian aid to minority groups being targeted by the militants.
President Barack Obama “authorized these airstrikes in support of an operation to deliver humanitarian assistance to civilians in the town of Amirli,” U.S. Defense spokesman Mark Wright said in a statement. Fighter aircraft destroyed three Humvees, an armed vehicle, a checkpoint and tank operated by Islamic State, the Sunni militant group also known as ISIS, he said.
The airstrikes come as nations including the U.K. and Australia join the U.S. in offering aid to foes of Islamic State as the threat of militants returning from Iraq and Syria to plot attacks at home countries triggers heightened alerts. The U.K. has raised its terror threat to “severe,” the second-highest level, with Prime Minister David Cameron saying the battle against Islamic extremism is a “generational struggle” which will probably last decades.
Australians involved with overseas militant groups are “radicalized, they are brutalized, they are accustomed to kill in the name of God,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in Canberra today. “There’s no reason to think the same people won’t do likewise if they get the chance elsewhere, including in Australia.”
The Iraqi army, Kurdish forces and volunteers started an offensive to push Islamic State militants out of villages near and around Amirli, according to Iraqi military spokesman Qassim Ata. They haven’t entered Amirli yet, he said by phone today.
Footage on the Iraqi Defense Ministry website showed a military helicopter delivering aid and evacuating residents, mostly women and children.
Abbott announced his nation will join a U.S.-led multinational bid to provide aircraft to transport military equipment and arms to anti-militant forces in Iraq. Aircraft from Australia, France and the U.K. are also involved in the food drops.
The U.S. this month authorized air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq while ordering surveillance flights over Syria. Two U.S. C-17s and two U.S. C-130s have now airdropped 109 bundles of aid including food and water to the people of Amirli, including the Shiite Turkomen minority ethnic group in the area, the Defense Department said in a statement yesterday.
The U.K. public could expect to see more police, including armed officers, on the streets as a result of the increased threat level, Cameron told reporters in London Aug. 29. He will also announce new legislation tomorrow to make it easier to confiscate the passports of people suspected of wanting to travel to join extremist groups including Islamic State.
“What we are facing in Iraq now with ISIL is a greater threat to our security than we have seen before,” Cameron said. “We could be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member.”
North Atlantic Treaty Organization member Turkey shares a border with both Syria and Iraq. Cameron said at least 500 people have traveled from the U.K. to fight in Iraq and Syria with Islamic State.
The U.K.’s “severe” terrorism threat rating means an attack is “highly likely,” but that there’s no intelligence about a specific plot. The highest level is “Imminent.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said there are no plans to raise the threat level in the U.S. Obama administration officials have been in contact with their counterparts in the U.K. about the British decision, he said.
The Royal Australian Air Force will provide a C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster aircraft to transport stores of military equipment, including arms and munitions, to forces fighting Islamic State, Abbott said today in an e-mailed statement.
Australia’s government, which hasn’t ruled out participating in U.S. air strikes, has assessed there were about 60 Australians fighting for terrorism groups in Syria and Iraq, with about 100 more involved in facilitation and support for those groups, Attorney-General George Brandis said in an e- mailed statement yesterday. Australia’s terrorism public alert system remained at “Medium,” indicating an attack could occur, he said.
“The large number of Australians participating in the conflict means Australia is facing its highest threat for some time,” Brandis said.
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