Skip to main content

Obama: ISIS a 'cancer,' U.S. to continue operations in Iraq

By Chelsea J. Carter and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 7:09 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: United States attempted a rescue in Syria, Pentagon spokesman says
  • More Americans, including Steven Sotloff, held by ISIS, official says
  • "The United States will do what we must," President Obama says
  • Airstrikes resume near Mosul Dam, a day after video of U.S. journalist

(CNN) -- The United States launched a series of airstrikes Wednesday against ISIS forces in Iraq, the same day President Barack Obama vowed to act against the militant group following its beheading of an American journalist and its threat to kill another.

"The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless," the President said in televised remarks.

Obama vowed justice for James Foley, calling his killing by ISIS, which refers to itself as the Islamic State, an act of violence that "shocked the conscience of the entire world."

The President's statement followed Tuesday's release by ISIS of a video that showed Foley's killing and carried a stark warning that a second American, believed to be journalist Steven Sotloff, would be killed, if the United States did not end its military operations in Iraq.

Whether Sotloff lives or dies, the executioner said on the video, depends on what Obama does next.

ISIS is believed to be holding a number of Americans, including Sotloff, a U.S. official told CNN. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to say exactly how many Americans were being held or to identify them.

Also Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a written statement that the United States attempted a rescue operation earlier this summer to free a number of American hostages held in Syria by ISIS.

"Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location," he said.

Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CNN that the mission was to rescue Foley and others being held at an undisclosed location.

If ISIS, also known as ISIL, hoped the execution video and threat would ease U.S. military involvement in Iraq, it failed.

Calling ISIS a "cancer," Obama said across the Middle East there has to be a common effort to put an end to the group.

"Friends and allies around the world, we share a common set of values that are rooted in the opposite of what we saw yesterday," he said. "And we will continue to confront this hateful terrorism and replace it with a sense of hope and civility."

As the President spoke, the Pentagon confirmed the United States carried out 14 airstrikes against mobile ISIS targets in the vicinity of the Mosul Dam, which Kurdish forces recaptured from the terror group with the support of American airpower.

Humanitarian operation underway

Obama ordered targeted airstrikes in Iraq this month to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, as well as minorities being brutalized by ISIS.

The campaign by ISIS in Iraq began in June when the group swept in from Syria, seizing Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul.

ISIS militants, who are Sunni Muslim extremists, have carried out brutal attacks on towns and villages as they've advanced across Iraq, targeting Iraq's Christians, minority sects such as the Yazidis, centered in the northern Sinjar area, and Shia Muslims.

The UNHCR estimates that 1.2 million Iraqis have been forced from their homes so far this year, including more than one hal million in the western Anbar province and a similar number in northern Iraq.

A plane carrying the first load of humanitarian aid as part of a multiday operation to help hundreds of thousands of displaced people in northern Iraq has landed in Irbil, the U.N. refugee agency said.

"It's the largest single aid push we have mounted in more than a decade," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said.

The first Boeing 747 to land carried 100 tons of aid, he said. Three more flights will follow from Jordan into Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital, with the last on Saturday.

The airlift will be bolstered by deliveries made by road and sea over the next 10 days, with 175 trucks ferrying cargo from warehouses in Turkey, Jordan and Iran.

The shipments include thousands of tents, plastic sheets, kitchen sets and jerrycans, destined for families who fled with little more than the clothes on their back.

What to know about ISIS

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters assemble at a shrine on Iraq's Mount Sinjar on Friday, December 19. The Kurdish military said that with the help of coalition airstrikes, it has "cleansed" the area of ISIS militants. ISIS has been advancing in Iraq and Syria as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters assemble at a shrine on Iraq's Mount Sinjar on Friday, December 19. The Kurdish military said that with the help of coalition airstrikes, it has "cleansed" the area of ISIS militants. ISIS has been advancing in Iraq and Syria as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region.
The ISIS terror threat
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: The ISIS terror threat Photos: The ISIS terror threat
ISIS loses control of Mosul Dam
UNHCR: Iraq aid mission one of largest
Christian village evacuates ahead of ISIS

More US troops to Iraq?

As the massive aid operation swings into gear, fierce fighting continues between the militants and Kurdish forces for control of northern Iraq.

On Tuesday, U.S. airstrikes helped Kurdish and Iraqi forces take control of the key Mosul Dam, fighting back the militants who had seized it.

The stakes were huge for the millions of Iraqis who live downstream from the dam, the largest in the country, amid fears that if it were breached floods would have threatened lives in Mosul and downriver in Baghdad.

Now that the dam is cleared of ISIS militants, Iraqi forces are moving to grow their area of control, the Defense Department said.

The Pentagon is considering a State Department request for more U.S. troops to protect U.S. government personnel in the Baghdad area, a U.S. official confirmed to CNN.

If approved, the troops would number less than 300, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"There is a request by the State Department for additional security personnel in and around Baghdad," the official said. The official would not say where the troops would go, but there are two publicly known locations for American personnel working in Baghdad -- the U.S. Embassy and Baghdad International Airport.

The official insisted that there was no specific threat that led to this request, which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would have to approve.

The troops would be in addition to the hundreds of American military advisers already in the country advising Iraqi troops in their fight against ISIS.

James Foley remembered as 'brave and tireless' journalist

Heroic' mission rescues desperate Yazidis from ISIS

CNN's Barbara Starr, Jennifer Deaton and Richard Roth contributed to this report

Part of complete coverage on
Iraq
Get all the latest news and updates on Iraq in Arabic by visiting CNN Arabic.
updated 11:50 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
The beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS militants brings into focus once again the risks faced by reporters in modern conflicts.
updated 1:20 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
When war reporter James Foley wasn't writing for GlobalPost or recording video for AFP, he occasionally shared stories on his own blog, aptly titled "A World of Troubles."
updated 11:17 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
A video released by ISIS shows the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley and threatens the life of another American if President Obama doesn't end military operations in Iraq.
updated 5:34 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
"May God help you," the speaker of Iraq's parliament told Haider al-Abadi the day he was nominated prime minister.
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
The answers to this question lie in some clear differences in the two conflicts.
updated 6:27 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Framing the intervention in religious terms bolsters theories of U.S. bias, says Fahad Nazer.
updated 9:14 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
They are the faces of an entire community on the run.
updated 4:54 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
In an exodus of almost biblical proportions, thousands trudge across a river to escape killers belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Theirs were the faces that stood out in the chaotic helicopter evacuation off the Sinjar Mountains.
updated 8:13 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Browse through photos of thousands of refugees trudging across a river to escape ISIS.
updated 11:41 AM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
The face of 15-year-old Aziza -- rescued from Mount Sinjar in Iraq -- says it all.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
CNN's Ivan Watson flies along with the Iraqi military as they drop emergency supplies.
Why do the militant Islamists have the Yazidis in their cross hairs?
updated 1:50 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Images illustrate the ongoing violence in Iraq.
updated 12:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
The message from a growing number of actors inside and outside Iraq is the same: Maliki must go if the country is to be saved.
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
ISIS gives young men "cars to drive, guns, cell phones and cash money."
updated 6:15 AM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Which is worse: Running desperately for your life, or seeing others' lives end without enough to eat or drink?
updated 1:01 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
The Sinjar Mountains have always been a special place of refuge for the Yazidis.
updated 3:10 PM EDT, Sat August 9, 2014
Will the U.S. air strikes increase the terrorist threat in the U.S. and Europe?
updated 10:51 PM EDT, Fri August 8, 2014
Which religious and ethnic groups are under threat from ISIS militants?
ISIS has spread from Syria into Iraq. Learn where the militant strongholds are.
updated 9:56 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
'Why do these people kill other people?" For Iraq's youngest residents, the tragedy is almost incomprehensible.
Even those who aren't in the line of fire feel the effects of the chaos that has engulfed Iraq since extremists attacked.
ADVERTISEMENT