PENTAGON - President Barack Obama says American airstrikes have helped Iraqi forces and Kurds recapture the strategic Mosul dam from Islamist militants and avert a humanitarian disaster.
During an appearance at the White House, President Obama said Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, backed by U.S. war planes, have retaken the dam from fighters from the Islamic State group.
“If that dam was breached it could have proven catastrophic with floods that would have threatened the lives of thousands of civilians and endangered our embassy compound in Baghdad," said President Obama.
Obama said Iraqi and Kurdish forces took the lead fighting the militants on the ground, which proves they can work together.
He said the U.S. is providing weapons to Iraqi and Kurdish fighters and they are making important progress in pushing back terrorists.
The president said the U.S. is putting together an international coalition to bring humanitarian aid to displaced Iraqis.
“The United States will work with the Iraqi government as well as partners like the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy and Australia to get food and water to people in need and to bring long-term relief to people who have been driven from their homes," said Obama.
U.S. Central Command says fighters, bombers and drones launched 15 air strikes Monday around the Mosul dam.
The strikes hit nine fighting positions of the Islamic State as well as anti-aircraft artillery, armed vehicles and other targets.
Pentagon spokesman Army Colonel Steve Warren:
“We struck preplanned targets ahead of the ground operation and then during the ground operation are continuing to strike targets as needed," said Warren.
Since August 8, U.S. Central Command has conducted 68 airstrikes, with about half of those in support of Iraqi forces near the Mosul dam.
The dam is crucial to northern Iraq, providing electricity and irrigation for much of the region.
Warren says the airstrikes are part of a broader mission to protect U.S. personnel, critical infrastructure as well as preventing humanitarian disasters.
The U.S. first launched airstrikes earlier this month against the insurgents, in part to prevent the killing of thousands of minority Yazidis and Christians stranded in northern Iraq.