US launches new strikes against Islamic State militants

Strikes move closer to Baghdad as Obama launches campaign to 'degrade and destroy' militant group

(Image credit: JM Lopez/ AFP)

The United States has carried out its first round of new air strikes in support of Iraqi troops under a new strategy unveiled last week by Barack Obama to overcome the militant group.

A US military spokesman said that the strike had targeted fighters and vehicles to the south-west of Baghdad as the Iraqi army made a push to reclaim territory lost to the militants over the past months.

The jihadist group, also known as Isil or Isis, originated in Syria before moving into Iraq where it captured Mosul, Iraq's second city, then advanced along the length of the Euphrates Valley to the edge of Baghdad.

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A statement issued by US Central Command said that the air strike south-west of Baghdad was ''the first taken as part of our expanded efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions.'' The aim was to hit Isil targets in support of Iraqi security forces, as outlined in the president's speech last Wednesday.

The US Army has announced that it will set up expanded, more permanent headquarters in Baghdad and also in the northern city of Irbil. Special forces troops will also be embedded in Iraqi units to help coordinate the air strikes. Four hundred and seventy five more American soldiers are set to arrive in Iraq in the next week, bringing the total to 1,600, CBS News says.

The US has already conducted more than 160 airstrikes in Iraq since August, the BBC notes. Previous strikes have focussed on Iraq's north and west, near Kurdish controlled territory, as well as the dams at Mosul and Haditha and the Sinjar mountain.

Having promised to "degrade and ultimately destroy" IS, Obama said that strikes would move from Iraq to target militants in Syria. According to The Times, the US president will today develop his strategy in a meeting with his newly-appointed special envoy to the IS mission, the retired General John Allen. In Washington, Congress is expected to approve a resolution to send arms and equipment to the moderate Syrian opposition to maintain pressure on IS.

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