The U.S. military launched air strikes in Iraq on Friday against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants after President Barack Obama vowed to protect the Kurdish capital of Erbil and the thousands of Yazidi minority civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar.
"When many thousands of innocent civilians are in danger of being wiped out, and we have the capacity to help, we will take action," he said on Thursday.
Three days of air strikes helped the Kurdish forces, locally known as the Peshmerga, retake some territory from the radical Islamic State forces that included key positions in the Makhmur District, a region north of the city of Kirkuk, as well as the nearby town of Gwair, the Wall Street Journal reported.
However, on top of heavy military aid, a senior Obama administration official revealed on Monday that the U.S. started providing weapons “directly” to the Kurdish fighters – a move that means the government either wants to help Kurds gain independence from Iraq or that it wishes Iraqis to take the necessary steps to solve their own security problems.
Apparently, Iraqi Kurdistan – composed of an ethnic minority group who control a largely autonomous part of northeastern Iraq – and the U.S. have a “long, winding history.” According to the Washington Post:
“Since invading Iraq, the U.S. has continuously supported the country's unity and has recently been particularly worried about an oil pipeline that connects Kurdish areas and Turkey because it could make the Kurds financially independent from Baghdad. But the sudden success of the Islamic State might be changing the calculus.”
American motives behind the military support remains unclear and officials refuse to provide more specific details about what the weapons are and which agency would be providing them. The fact remains that Kurds are – for now – an effective and possibly the only way to counter the Islamic State militant forces.
And judging by the fact that the Peshmerga have been successful in reclaiming two important positions from the ISIS, the U.S.-Kurd alliance seems to be working out well.