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US Navy Fighters Return To The Skies Of Iraq, Targeting Islamic State Artillery Near Irbil

08/08/2014 15:10 BST | Updated 08/08/2014 19:59 BST

US Navy fighters have returned to the skies of Iraq, targeting American ordnance on artillery positions held by the Islamic State, formerly ISIS, the militant group that has ravaged the region, persecuting ethnic and religious minorities. The Pentagon confirmed on Friday that the USS George H. W Bush carrier had deployed a pair of F/A18 fighters, which targeted militants near the Kurdish city of Irbil, with two 500-pound bombs. The militants were reportedly launching strikes on Irbil, a city in which US personnel are deployed.

The move follows President Obama's declaration on Friday night that "America was coming to help", the White house authorising the strikes in response to threat on Irbil, as well as the plight of the Yazidis, a Kurdish sect that in recent days have been forced to flee their homes and take refuge on Mount Sinjar to escape slaughter at the hands of the Islamic State. The President added that the US military had already supplied food and water via air drops to the Yazidis at the request of the Iraqi government however reiterated that there would be "no American troops on the ground".

More than 4,000 Yazidis are estimated to be marooned on the mountain without fresh water and in unbearable summer heat, unable to descend through fear of being massacred by the extremists ravaging the surrounding geography.

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Two F/A18 fighters were deployed from the USS George H. W Bush

The Kurdish community, which follows an ancient religion linked to Zoroastrianism but with components of Islam and Christianity, fled to the mountain from nearby villages to escape slaughter, however without sustenance or shelter the displaced Yazidis faced a horrific end, despite attempts by humanitarian agencies to drop bottled water on the mountainside. CNN is reporting that dozens of children have already died of thirst.

Speaking to the Washington Post on Thursday, Marzio Babille, the Iraq representative for the UNICEF, said the Yazidis are dying on the mountain. “There is no water, there is no vegetation, they are completely cut off and surrounded by Islamic State. It’s a disaster, a total disaster,” he warned.

The Islamic State has been vociferous in its persecution of ethnic groups in Iraq, with an estimated 150,000 Kurds fleeing to the protected Kurdish region, creating a humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the country.

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Following a meeting in Whitehall of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Britain was ready to provide "technical assistance" to support US humanitarian operations in the region. Speaking in Downing Street, he told reporters that he hoped British air-drops targeting members of the Yazidi religious minority trapped on a mountainside could begin in the "next couple of days".

"What we have decided today is to assist the United States in the humanitarian operations that started yesterday. We are offering technical assistance in that in terms of refuelling and surveillance," he said. "We are offering aid of our own which we hope to drop over the next couple of days in support of the American relief effort, particularly to help the plight of those who are trapped on the mountain."

In its latest travel advice, the Foreign Office is warning British nationals against all travel to areas in northern Iraq affected by the fighting, including those in the Kurdistan region - previously regarded as one of the safest parts of the country. Earlier, David Cameron insisted the world must help the Yazidis in their "hour of desperate need" as he backed US president Barack Obama's decision to respond to a request by the Iraqi government for targeted air strikes.

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Protesters in London, who are calling for help for the Yazidi

The Prime Minister said he utterly condemned the "barbaric attacks" by IS - formerly known as Isis (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). "I am extremely concerned by the appalling situation in Iraq and the desperate situation facing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. I am especially concerned for the minority Yazidi community now trapped on Mount Sinjar, where they have fled for their lives. They fear slaughter if they descend back down the slopes but face starvation and dehydration if they remain on the mountain. The world must help them in their hour of desperate need."

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, joined the appeals for international help for those communities "facing a threat to their very existence in their biblical homelands". "It is imperative that the international community ensure the physical protection of all communities in Iraq, their human rights including the right to religious freedom," he said. "I urge Her Majesty's Government to lead the efforts in the face of such a human calamity in order to help restore these shattered communities, provide them with urgent humanitarian aid and work with others to ensure their long-term security in the land of their birth."

The Department for International Development later gave details of the UK's £8 million emergency aid package. It includes £2 million of humanitarian supplies for 75,000 people, such as reusable filtration containers filled with clean water, tents, and solar lights which can also recharge mobile phones. Much of the aid can be dropped from the air to help those trapped in the Sinjar Mountains. Some £3 million will go to charities and NGOs already on the ground and helping displaced people in northern Iraq, and £2.5 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

A further £500,000 will be used to ensure Kurdish and UN systems can co-ordinate properly. International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: "The world has been horrified by the brutal persecution of vulnerable minority groups by Isil extremists in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes and we are extremely concerned for their safety.

"This aid from the British people will help the Yazidi community, who are now cut off on Mount Sinjar, get immediate emergency support. It will also ensure thousands more people get medical help, shelter, food and clean water. It is absolutely vital that the UN gets the access it needs and the British government is working with the international community to push for this."

SEE ALSO:

The Yazidis on Mount Sinjar

Yezidis refugees on Sinjar Mountain