By Justin Sink - 08/14/14 01:48 PM EDT
President Obama said Thursday that U.S. forces “broke the siege” by Islamic militants targeting an Iraqi religious sect, but vowed to continue airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL).
Thousands of Yazidis were trapped on Mount Sinjar in Iraq without food and water after fleeing the advance of the Sunni extremist group.
"The bottom line is, is that the situation on the mountain has greatly improved, and Americans should be very proud of our efforts," Obama said.
"Because of the skill and professionalism of our military and the generosity of our people, we broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar, we helped vulnerable people reach safety, and we helped save many innocent lives."
Obama added that the humanitarian mission had been executed "almost flawlessly."
Still, the U.S. will continue to target ISIS forces that are threatening Iraqi cities with an American diplomatic presence, including Baghdad and Erbil, Obama said.
"We will continue airstrikes to protect our people and facilities in Iraq," Obama said. "We have increased the delivery of military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting ISIL on the front lines."
The president also said the military would consider other humanitarian operations similar to the mission at Mount Sinjar if they could do so "without committing combat troops on the ground."
"We obviously feel a great urge to provide some humanitarian relief to the situation, and I've been very encouraged by the interest of our international partners in helping on these kinds of efforts as well," Obama said.
The president implored Iraqis to seize "the enormous opportunity of forming a new inclusive government" under Haider al-Abadi, who was nominated earlier this week to serve as the next prime minister of Iraq.
His nomination came over the objections of current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said he wanted to seek a third term. But administration officials have criticized al-Maliki’s governance, saying his purge of minority Iraqis from top military and political posts allowed for the rise of ISIS.
Obama said in a phone conversation with al-Abadi earlier this week, the prime minister-designate had spoken about the need for "a government that speaks to all the people of Iraq."
"He still has a challenging task in putting a government together, but we are modestly hopeful that the Iraqi government situation is moving in the right direction," Obama said.