A top Pentagon officer said Monday that U.S. airstrikes in Iraq are only being used to blunt the Islamic State's assault on refugees in the northern part of the the country, and to defend U.S. personnel and resources, and are not likely to significantly disrupt other military operations attempted by ISIL, also known as ISIS.
Lieutenant General William Mayville Jr. briefed reporters on humanitarian aid and airstrikes in Iraq, and said the military has dropped food, water and medicine on Mount Sinjar to help the Yazidi refugees. Several airstrikes were also conducted on ISIL forces to slow their advance on those refugees.
Displaced Iraqis from the northern town of Sinjar head towards the autonomous Kurdistan region on August 4, 2014, as they seek refuge after Islamic State (IS) Sunni militants took control of their hometown. The Islamic State (IS) raised its black flag in Sinjar on August 3, 2014 after ousting the peshmerga troops of Iraq's Kurdish government, forcing thousands of people from their homes. AFP PHOTO
"However, these strikes are unlikely to affect ISIL's overall capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria," he said.
When pressed on whether U.S. military operations would be expanded — for example, to one that involves degrading ISIL's command and control or targeting certain ISIL operatives — Mayville said only that the current mission is to protect U.S. assets and break up ISIL forces, and nothing more.
"There are no plans to expand the current air campaign beyond the current self-defense activities," he added.
Mayville was also asked whether ground troops are an option to help free the trapped Yazidis, but said only that U.S. strategists continue to assess the situation.
"We are, right now, gripped by the immediacy of the crisis and our focus right now is to provide immediate relief to those that are suffering," he said. "We are looking at the effect that we are having on those fixed sites, those missile sites, those ISIL sites that are laying siege, and we are trying to reduce that threat."
"And for the near term, that's going to be our focus."
Mayville did indicate, however, that the U.S. is considering ways to help the Kurdish population defend itself from ISIL.
"We are looking at how we can help them and studying the challenges they have and with the team that we have in Baghdad providing some assistance," he said. "We are looking at plans at how we can expand that support."