WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Saturday that airstrikes he ordered in northern Iraq have destroyed arms and equipment held by Islamic State forces whose rapid advance has surpassed U.S. intelligence estimates.
Obama warned Americans that the new campaign in Iraq “is going to be a long-term project.” He wouldn’t give a timetable for how long the U.S. military involvement would last, saying it depends on Iraq’s political efforts.
“I don’t think we are going to solve this problem in weeks,” Obama said. “I think this is going to take some time.”
The president said humanitarian efforts continue to airdrop food and water to persecuted religious minorities stranded on a mountaintop, and he said planning was underway for how to get them down.
Obama made his comments on the South Lawn of the White House Saturday, just before boarding Marine One for his summer vacation in Massachusetts.
Obama sharply rejected the premise that it was his decision to pull out from Iraq and said it was because Iraqis didn’t want U.S. troops there.
He repeated that the U.S. is not going to have us combat troops in Iraq again. “We are going to maintain that because we should have learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion into Iraq,” Obama said.
The president said there’s “no doubt” the Islamic State advance on the Kurdish capital of Irbil “has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates.”
U.S. military jets launched several airstrikes Friday on isolated targets, including two mortar positions and a vehicle convoy. U.S. officials announced Friday night the second airdrop of food and water in as many days for the imperiled refugees.