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."
"There is no decision that I take more seriously than the use of military force," Obama added.
Obama said the U.S. is consulting with the United Nations and other countries who have called for action, but added that he "will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq, so even as we support Iraqis, American combat troops will not be returning to fight."
In June, Obama sent a small group of U.S. military advisers to assist the Iraqi government in its effort to fend off the Islamic militant offensive, but was reluctant to take direct military action.
A senior U.S. defense official confirmed earlier that the U.S. military conducted a humanitarian assistance operation in Northern Iraq to air drop critical meals and water for thousands of Iraqi citizens threatened by ISIL near Sinjar. U.S. F-18s escorted the cargo planes with the humanitarian supplies under the direction of U.S. central command.
Following the news Rear Admiral John Kirby expressed his support in a tweet:
Most of Kurdistan had been protected from militants by its own armed forces until this week. The Islamic State's Sunni militants have swept across northwestern Iraq, driving members of Iraq's minority Yazidi sect as well as Christians from their homes. Many are stranded on Sinjar mountain, desperately short of food, water and medicine.
Oil markets reacted swiftly, rising sharply late Thusday/early Friday. By 1:40 p.m. BST, Brent crude prices were 0.35 percent higher at $105.81 per barrel, while Nymex crude rose 0.28 percent to $97.63 per barrel. Spot gold moved higher initially, but changed directions to trade 0.44 percent lower on Friday, at $1,307.40 an ounce.
Dow futures slipped over 90 points early Friday, before paring losses to trade higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 2.3594 percent, although at 1.40 p.m. BST was at 2.4077 percent.
The news of the U.S. airstrikes hit market sentiment in Asia and Europe Friday. Japan's benchmark Nikkei index fell to its lowest level since May 30 while Europe's main markets all opened lower, with Germany's DAX index falling through the psychologically important 9,000 barrier.
The safe-haven yen meanwhile strengthened to 101.8 per dollar after trading above 102 earlier.