Barack Obama has authorized the military to make targeted airstrikes in Iraq to protect American personnel, the U.S. president said in a statement on Thursday.
This comes as the U.S. began an effort to drop humanitarian aid to trapped Iraqis on Thursday, while denying reports that American forces had conducted airstrikes in Kurdish territory.
"We intend to stay vigilant and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or our facilities anywhere in Iraq," Obama said, authorizing targeted airstrikes if Islamic State militants advance further toward the Kurdish capital Arbil or threaten Americans anywhere in the country.
The airstrikes would be the first carried out by the U.S. military in Iraq since the withdrawal of its forces at the end of 2011.
"The United States cannot and should not intervene every time there's a crisis in the world but we must act now because innocent people face the prospect of violence on a horrific scale," he said. "We can act carefully and responsibility to prevent a potential act of genocide."