US President Barack Obama has authorised "targeted air strikes" against Islamic militants to protect American military personnel and prevent potential "genocide" of thousands of displaced religious minorities trapped on a mountaintop in northwest Iraq.
In a televised address late last night, Obama said the US "cannot turn a blind eye" when it has the capability to prevent genocide of the stranded Iraqi minorities.
He also authorised a humanitarian effort to "help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death".
Obama said he has authorised US military to conduct air strikes against Islamic State militants if they advance further toward the city of Erbil - the capital of Kurdish region of Iraq "where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces".
"We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad.
"We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide. That's what we're doing on that mountain," he said.
In a nine-minute speech, Obama explained the reasons for his decision, but reiterated there would be no American troops on the ground.
"Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, "There is no one coming to help." Well, today, America is coming to help," he said in his remarks from the State Dining room of the White House, adding that when the lives of Americans are at risk and when thousands of innocent civilians at risk, the US will take action.
Thousands of families from the Yazidi minority community are reportedly trapped in the mountains without food and water after fleeing the rampaging fighters of the Islamic State, also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS.
Throngs of refugees, many of them Iraqi Christians, are also on the run after their largest city Qaraqosh was occupied by the militants from the al-Qaeda splinter group.
At the same time, Obama vowed that the US would not be dragged into another war in Iraq. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the US military is ready to carry out air strikes inside Iraq.
"The US military will also remain ready to conduct targeted air strikes, if necessary, to help forces in Iraq fighting to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and protect Iraqi civilians trapped there," Hagel said in a statement from New Delhi where he is travelling.
"In addition, we are prepared to conduct air strikes to protect American personnel against ISIL terrorist convoys should they approach Erbil," he said.
At the direction of Obama, US military conducted a successful airdrop of food and water for thousands of Iraqi citizens threatened by the Islamic State near Sinjar, Iraq.
The mission was conducted from multiple airbases within the US Central Command area of responsibility and included one C-17 and two C-130 aircraft that together dropped a total of 72 bundles of supplies.
They were escorted by two F/A-18s also from an airbase within Central Command; the supply mission did not require any US ground forces.
"I can confirm that tonight, at the direction of the Commander in Chief, the US military conducted a humanitarian assistance operation in Northern Iraq to air drop critical meals and water for thousands of Iraqi citizens threatened by ISIL near Sinjar," a senior American defence official said.
The C-17 dropped 40 "Container Delivery System" bundles of fresh drinking water and was complemented by a C-130 loaded with an additional 16 bundles totalling 5,300 gallons of fresh drinking water. In addition, one C-130 aircraft dropped 16 bundles totalling 8,000 meals ready to eat.
The aircraft were over the drop area for less than 15 minutes flying at a low altitude and now safely exited. In his address, Obama said that in recent days, terrorist group ISIL have continued to move across Iraq, and have neared the city of Erbil.
"To stop the advance on Erbil, I've directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city," he said, adding the US was also providing urgent assistance to Iraqi government and Kurdish forces to fight against ISIL more effectively.
According to senior administration official, the White House has been consulting with Congressional leaders. The President would notify Congress under the War Powers Resolution if American warplanes do attack in Iraq.
Officials said, the administration believes its actions in Iraq are legal because of a request for help from Baghdad and under Obama's constitutional national security powers.
Obama also said, "there's no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq. The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces." Meanwhile, the Pentagon denied reports that it has already conducted air strikes.