Washington, Aug 8 (IANS): The US Friday launched targeted airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS) in northern Iraq, as Pope Francis announced he would send an envoy to the Middle East country to express his proximity and solidarity with the people, especially Christians, who are enduring attacks from the Sunni jihadis.
"The mission really is to protect American personnel in Erbil and potentially even in and around Baghdad," Xinhua quoted Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby as saying at an emergency press briefing to announce the military action against the Sunni insurgent group.
"And this is an important point - to try to help Iraqi security forces as they go after this threat," Kirby added.
"This is a threat inside their country, to their people, to their sovereignty, and ultimately this is an Iraqi fight to fight."
Two laser-guided bombs were dropped by US fighter jets on the mobile artillery of the IS.
US President Barack Obama Thursday said he authorised airstrikes "if necessary" against IS militants, who have advanced into the Kurdish region of Iraq and seized the country's largest dam.
Tens of thousands of refugees have fled into the mountains, hoping to reach the Kurdish region in north Iraq, but were trapped because of militant activity between the mountain and the Kurdish area, and are running short on food and water.
The UN Security Council has condemned the Islamic insurgent group and expressed its "deep outrage" at the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in the wake of the attacks.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis announced Friday that he will send Cardinal Fernando Filoni to northern Iraq to express his proximity and solidarity with the people, especially Christians, who are enduring attacks from Sunni jihadis, EFE quoted the Vatican press office as saying.
The former nuncio to Iraq and current prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples is set to arrive in Iraqi Kurdistan within the next few days, Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi said.
More than 120,000 Christians have fled to Kurdistan from their homes in the northern Iraqi towns of Qaraqosh and Telkif, which have fallen under the control of militants of the Islamic State (IS) Sunni extremist group.
Lombardi said it was too early to know whether the pontiff's envoy will visit those areas.
The IS has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria to create an Islamic caliphate and has warned Christians they should convert to Islam or leave.
In a statement, Francis urged the international community to put an end to this "humanitarian crisis and protect those threatened by violence".
"I ask all men and women of goodwill to join me in praying for Iraqi Christians and all vulnerable populations," Pope Francis posted Friday on his official Twitter account.
Police and the army, backed by tribesmen, Friday repulsed an attack by IS militants on a power station in the west of Anbar province, killing 25 jihadis, Mena news agency quoted a senior officer, Abdul Hakim Al-Jughaifi, as saying.
Iraq is in the midst of battling the IS militants, who have seized control of cities in the country's northwest.
The current conflict in Iraq has acquired strong sectarian overtones, with disputes between the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shias.
The Shia-led government is struggling against the Sunni IS fighters, and other Sunni rebel groups.