(NBC) - U.S. air missions, aid deliveries and further efforts to weaken militants in Iraq will “be a long-term project", but U.S. combat troops will not return to the ground, President Barack Obama said Saturday. In a nationally televised news conference, the president said that sending U.S. troops back to Iraq would create a large cost with meager returns, especially in the absence of a structured Iraqi government.
Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham had advanced on the strategic northern city of Erbil more rapidly than the U.S. had expected, but U.S. airstrikes that began Friday have already destroyed weapons the militant Islamist rebels could have used to launch new attacks, Obama said. The U.S. also said it made a second airdrop of food and water Friday to refugees trapped on a mountaintop in northern Iraq. Although a day’s work provided some relief, Obama said mitigating the militants’ threat would take time.
"I don't think we're going to solve this problem in weeks,” said Obama, who said there are several offenses to pursue, including a “counter-terrorism element,” in case of attempted militant attacks against Western and U.S. targets. Obama said he is determined not only to protect American citizens in Iraq but also to prevent "an act of genocide" against tens of thousands of Christian and ethno-religious Yazidi refugees. Devising a plan to rescue the men, women and children stranded on Mount Sinjar would also pose a time-consuming challenge, he said. The United Kingdom and France agreed to join the U.S. in providing humanitarian assistance, Obama said, but “only Iraqis can ensure the security and stability of Iraq.”