Demonstrators call for the end to Islamic State terrorism during a Kurdish demonstration in front of the White House on Saturday. President Obama warned Saturday that the U.S. offensive in Iraq was a 'long-term project' to rout out militants and deliver aid to beleaguered civilians. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
President 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.
Also on Friday, U.S. officials announced the second airdrop of food and water in as many days for the imperiled refugees. Participating in the airdrop was one C-17 and two C-130 cargo aircraft that together dropped a total of 72 bundles of supplies. The cargo aircraft were escorted by two F/A-18s from the USS George H.W. Bush, according to the Pentagon. The C-17 dropped some 40 container delivery system bundles of meals ready to eat and was complemented by a C-130 loaded with an additional 16 bundles totaling 28,224 meals. In addition, one C-130 dropped 16 bundles totaling 1,522 gallons of fresh drinking water.
Altogether, the Pentagon says that U.S. military aircraft have delivered 36,224 meals and 6,822 gallons of fresh drinking water to affected Iraqis.
In his weekly radio and Internet address earlier Saturday, Obama said the U.S. will continue with targeted strikes if necessary. He said he won't allow the U.S. to be dragged into another war in Iraq, that the U.S. will protect Americans and prevent terrorists from having a safe haven.