The United States would launch additional airstrikes against Islamic militants if they began to advance upon Baghdad, broadening the scope for additional military action in Iraq, the White House said Friday.
President Obama announced Thursday night that he had authorized the military to target ISIS convoys as they moved toward the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil, where American diplomats, civilians and military advisers are stationed.
The U.S. launched the first of those airstrikes Friday morning, with warplanes dropping laser-guided bombs on an ISIS mobile artillery piece that was being used to shell Kurdish forces defending the city.
But the U.S. would also consider targeting ISIS forces progressing toward Baghdad, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told MSNBC on Friday.
“We're focused on Erbil because that's where [ISIS] has been advancing,” Rhodes said. “However, we also have a very significant diplomatic presence in Baghdad, of course, so the same principle would apply if we saw [ISIS] advances on Baghdad that threatened our people.”
Rhodes insisted the U.S. mission in Iraq would be limited to protecting U.S. personnel in those cities and aiding a humanitarian mission to assist tens of thousands of refugees trapped on a mountain range in northwestern Iraq after fleeing ISIS advances over the weekend.
Still, Rhodes did indicate the White House could expand its operation beyond the scope outlined by the president.
“We have said if there is a counterterrorism target that involves potential plotting against the United States, we always reserve the right to act,” Rhodes said. “That would be separate, though, from the two missions that the president authorized yesterday.”
At the same time, Rhodes expressed confidence that the airstrikes authorized by the president “provides a check” on the advance of ISIS.
And the White House spokesman defended the decision not to evacuate American personnel who could be in danger in the Kurdish capital.
“We want to keep that facility open, and we want to keep the joint operations center we have with the Kurds in Erbil open. And we have an invitation from the Iraqi government to take this action. … So all of that allows us to take this course of action, which allows us to, again, push back” ISIS, Rhodes said.