Iraq crisis: US confirms air strikes on Isis near key Mosul dam | World news |

The US confirmed on Saturday evening that its planes and drones had carried out air strikes against Islamic State (Isis) fighters in the area around Iraq’s crucial Mosul dam.

A statement from US Central Command said: “US military forces continued to attack [Isis] terrorists in Iraq Saturday, with a mix of fighter and remotely piloted aircraft successfully conducting airstrikes near Irbil and the Mosul dam.

“US Central Command conducted these strikes under authority to support humanitarian efforts in Iraq, as well as to protect US personnel and facilities.

“The nine airstrikes conducted thus far destroyed or damaged four armoured personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and an armored vehicle. All aircraft exited the strike areas safely.”

Earlier, residents living near the Mosul dam told the Associated Press the area was being targeted by air strikes. Isis seized the dam on the Tigris river on 7 August, leading to fears they could engineer a huge and catastrophic flood. Residents, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect their safety, said the air strikes killed militants, but that could not immediately be confirmed.

Officials and eyewitnesses also said on Saturday that extremists had killed 80 Yazidi men and abducted their wives and children. The news came on the same day the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Isis fighters had executed 700 members of a tribe it has been battling in eastern Syria.

The US began launching airstrikes against Isis fighters a week ago, in part to prevent the massacre of tens of thousands of Yazidis, members of a religious minority, who were stranded on Mount Sinjar. After most were able to escape, with the help of Kurdish fighters, President Barack Obama on Thursday took credit for alleviating the threat of genocide.

But on Friday afternoon Isis fighters who had surrounded the nearby village of Kocho 12 days ago, demanding its Yazidi residents convert or die, moved in. The militants took the men away in groups of a few dozen and shot them dead with assault rifles on the edge of the village, according to a wounded man who escaped by feigning death.

The fighters then walked among the bodies, finishing off any who appeared to still be alive with their pistols, the 42-year-old man told the Associated Press by phone from an area where he was hiding. He spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety.

“They thought we were dead, and when they went away, we ran away. We hid in a valley until sundown, and then we fled to the mountains,” he said.

A Yazidi lawmaker, a Kurdish security official and an Iraqi official from the nearby city of Sinjar gave similar accounts, saying Isis fighters had massacred scores of Yazidi men on Friday afternoon after seizing Kocho. All said they based their information on the accounts of survivors and warned that the minority group remained in danger despite the US intervention. Their accounts matched those of two other Yazidi men, Qassim Hussein and Nayef Jassem, who said they spoke to other survivors.

Yazidi lawmaker Mahma Khalil said the Yazidis in Kocho were given the choice to convert or die. “When the residents refused to do this, the massacre took place,” he said.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for Kurdish security forces, said the militants took the women and children of Kocho to the nearby city of Tal Afar, which is controlled by the Isis group.

Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled when Isis fighters earlier this month captured the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border. The plight of the Yazidis prompted US, Iraqi and international forces to launch aid drops. It also contributed to the US decision to launch air strikes against the militants, who were advancing on the Kurdish regional capital, Irbil.

Most of those Yazidis were eventually able to escape to Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region with the help of Kurdish fighters, and on Thursday Obama said Americans should be proud of the US efforts to save them.

“We broke the [Isis] siege of Mount Sinjar, we helped vulnerable people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives.” Obama said, speaking from his vacation spot in Edgartown, Massachusetts.

The decision to launch air strikes marked the first direct US military intervention in Iraq since the last troops withdrew in 2011, and reflected growing international concern about the extremist group. On Saturday, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said it deployed a US-made spy plane over northern Iraq to monitor the humanitarian crisis and movements of militants. It said the converted Boeing KC-135 tanker, called a Rivet Joint, would monitor mobile phone calls and other communications.

Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was in Baghdad on Saturday, where he announced his government would provide more than $32.2m in humanitarian aid to Iraq.

“The first German air force planes are flying to Irbil at this moment to deliver humanitarian aid,” Steinmeier said in a joint press conference with Iraq’s acting foreign minister, Hussein Shahristani. “In the current situation where minorities, especially in northern Iraq, are expelled and murdered, where children are orphaned and women are enslaved, humanitarian aid is extremely important.”

Two British planes also landed on Saturday in the Kurdish regional capital Irbil carrying humanitarian supplies.

But Khalil, the Yazidi lawmaker, said the US must do more to protect those fleeing the Isis fighters.

“We have been calling on the US administration and Iraqi government to intervene and help the innocent people, but it seems that nobody is listening,” Khalil said.