WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Friday that it launched an airstrike against Islamic militants in northern Iraq, hours after President Obama authorized American airstrikes against the rebels and humanitarian drops to aid refugees.
The Pentagon said two FA-18 fighter-attack planes dropped 500-pound, laser-guided munitions on a mobile artillery place near Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region.
The jets came from the USS George HW Bush, an aircraft carrier operating in the Persian gulf, according to a Defense Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military details.
The president had said Thursday night airstrikes would be used if the militants threatened Irbil, home to a U.S. consulate and a joint U.S.-Iraqi operations center.
"As the president made clear, the United States military will continue to take direct action against ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) when they threaten our personnel and facilities," Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.
There are about 650 U.S. troops in Iraq — 470 of them to protect American personnel and property at the embassy and Baghdad International Airport. The remainder are there to assess the security situation in Iraq and assist Iraqi forces in dealing with the threat from Islamic extremists who have captured key cities.
The Pentagon also has dispatched Apache attack helicopters and surveillance aircraft to the airport. The drones and other manned spy planes have been flying dozens of missions daily.
Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that it is banning U.S. airlines and commercial carriers from flying in Iraqi airspace.