The United States launched Friday afternoon a second round of airstrikes on Sunni militants in northern Iraq, sending four Navy fighter jets to strike eight targets around Irbil, according to Pentagon officials.
The attacks came hours after an initial wave of strikes by military aircraft and armed drones, escalating the U.S. involvement in Iraq a day after President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. military was returning to a direct combat role in the country it left in 2011.
Defense officials said they believed the second round of attacks resulted in a number of casualties among the militants with the Islamic State. The Navy fighters launched from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. George H.W. Bush, which has been deployed in the Arabian Sea.
Earlier Friday, two F-18 fighters dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery target that had just begun shelling Irbil, Pentagon officials said. A senior defense official said Friday that the artillery unit hit in the earlier bombing was being towed by a truck toward Irbil.
“We do believe there were some casualties,” the official said about the initial strikes, although he wouldn’t say how many. He added, “They were shelling Irbil; they’re not firing anymore. I’ll tell you that.”
Obama said Thursday that he had authorized airstrikes if necessary to break an Islamic State siege that has left tens of thousands of refugees stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. So far, all of the military bombings have been carried out at targets near the Kurdish capital, where the United States has a consulate and where thousands of Americans live.
Defense officials said that they expect the strikes to continue as warranted, as part of an effort to slow the momentum of Islamic State militants, who had accelerated their march on Kurdish targets in northern Iraq.