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Obama vows to defeat Islamic State amid fresh US airstrikes in Iraq

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama has vowed to defeat the Islamic State hours after the United States launched fresh airstrikes against the militant group in Iraq. The latest aerial raids were around Haditha Dam, the first time the US has targeted the IS insurgents in that area.

The Sunni movement, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL, is trying to capture the vital dam in the west of the country. On the ground, Iraqi forces capitalised on the raids, launching an operation to drive the militants out of the Haditha area as they reportedly retook the town of Barwana.

Obama said he would give a speech on Wednesday where he would set out his strategy against the jihadist group, which has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria. He said he would not announce US ground troops would be sent and wants Sunni states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE and Turkey to ‘step up” and help in the fight. He also “wants the American people to understand the nature of the threat.”

Obama said there was not any immediate intelligence about threats to the US homeland but IS could be a serious threat over time “if allowed to control a significant amount of territory.” He told NBC, “We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities, we’re going shrink the territory that they control and ultimately we’re going to defeat them.”

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the four new airstrikes had been carried out at the request of the Iraqi government. “If that dam would fall into ISIL’s hands or if that dam would be destroyed, the damage that would cause would be very significant and it would put a significant, additional and big risk into the mix in Iraq.”

Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, the leader of a pro-Iraqi government paramilitary force, said the strikes were “very accurate.” He said, “There was no collateral damage ... If Islamic State had gained control of the dam, many areas of Iraq would have been seriously threatened, even Baghdad.”

It is Washington’s first offensive in Anbar province since it started hitting IS forces in the north of the country in August. Since then the US has conducted more than 130 airstrikes. IS fighters tried to capture Haditha Dam, which has six power generators located alongside the country’s second largest reservoir, last month.