(WASHINGTON) -- The United States is ready to strike ISIS militants in Iraq with targeted air strikes at any time, but the administration has no interest in carrying out a broad-based counterterrorism operation, senior administration officials said.
It has been nearly three years since U.S. forces left Iraq, three years since President Barack Obama announced the war there was over. The last convoy of U.S. soldiers left Iraq in December 2011.
But U.S. are now armed and ready to strike targets in Iraq at the president’s order.
With ISIS militants poised to attack the key city of Erbil in northern Iraq, where the United States has a consulate and about 40 military advisors, Obama said Thursday he has authorized targeted air strikes, if necessary.
“We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq,” Obama said.
Obama said there will be no U.S. troops on the ground.
“I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq. And so even as we support Iraqis, as they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq,” Obama said.
Administration officials believe the Iraqis are best-suited to deal with the threat of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, over the long term.
“We’re laying down a marker here that even though [ISIS] is not penetrating Erbil, just their presence on the periphery, and the potential threat they pose, could lead us to take action if the targets present themselves,” an official told ABC News.
U.S. forces are conducting a difficult and dangerous humanitarian mission, with three U.S. Air Force cargo jets escorted by two F-18 fighter jets dropping critical supplies. In a race to stop a catastrophe, thousands of families who fled to the top of a mountain in Sinjar now face a worrisome predicament, battling blistering heat, pleading that there is no water or bread. Nearly 20 children have already died.
They are trapped 3,000 feet up with no escape.
Down below, ISIS terrorists have taken over their homes, warning of a slaughter if they return.
The U.S. aircraft dropped 5,300 gallons of water and 8,000 ready-to-eat meals.
Senior administration officials said air drops and humanitarian aid will continue “as we see need,” and the administration expects that need to continue.
The White House believes any action would be consistent with international law, because U.S. input was requested by the Iraqi government. Additionally, the administration believes that the president has the legal authority under the Constitution to act to protect U.S. citizens.
At this point, the United States is not evacuating Americans from Erbil, confident that the consulate is safe, administration officials said.
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio