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For Second Day, U.S. Strikes Targets In Northern Iraq


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lourdes Garcia Navarro. Scott Simon is away this week. President Obama today said U.S. airstrikes targeting Islamic militants in northern Iraq are proving to be successful and the operation will continue.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm not going to give a particular timetable because, as I've said from the start, where ever and whenever U.S. personnel and facilities are threatened, it's my obligation, my responsibility as commander-and-chief, to make sure that they are protected.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The president also said assistance to the Iraqi government and Kurdish fighters would be a long-term project, one that could take months, not weeks. Joining us now is Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani of the Kurdistan Regional Government from Erbil in Iraq. Welcome.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Last we saw, the Islamic State was 20 miles outside of Erbil. How concerned are you about their threatening the heart of Iraqi Kurdistan?

TALABANI: The Islamic State is obviously a threat to Iraq, to Kurdistan, to anyone that wants to live a peaceful and democratic existence. So we are very concerned about the situation, but it'll take time to take confidence in our security services. And I'm very grateful for the way that the United States has intervened in support of our forces to try to push these militants back.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you seen any indication that those airstrikes by the United States are working? Have the Islamic State militants started backing off from the area?

TALABANI: They have certainly stopped their advances and the strikes have significantly boosted the morale of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who have been fighting these militants for almost two months now. And the fight has really drained our resources and it's drained our ammunition supplies. But these strikes by the U.S. and also by the Iraqi Air Force have certainly bolted our confidence and allowed us to regroup and also now to try and take back some of the territory that we've lost to this Islamic group.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Were you surprised by how well-armed and well-organized they are? I mean, the Kurdish Peshmerga are well-known for being a good fighting force and yet they were pushed back.

TALABANI: We are a very good fighting force but we were very surprised by the speed at which ISIS attacked, but more than that, the weaponry that they had. They basically commandeered all of the Iraqi army division's weapons that were stationed up in the northern Mosul. These are high-tech, U.S.-supplied weapons that include Abrams tanks, armored Humvees, cannons, mortar rounds. And despite our forces being veteran fighters, with our infantry - light infantry weaponry - it is proven very difficult here to repel and push back some of these forces. But I'm confident they will be able to continue to do so.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Kurdish government is now asking the U.S. government for small arms and munitions to help fight off these militants. Is this something that the Obama administration has responded to yet? What exactly are you asking for?

TALABANI: We're asking for support, for equipment, for military supplies. We've been asking for quite some time now. It's unfortunate that all of the weapons and munitions that the United States has given and or sold to Iraq, none of it made its way up to Kurdistan to our forces. So we really need some of these weapons that can stop these armored Humvees and armored personnel carriers in their tracks and that can push back some of these ISIS forces. And of course, we will continue to rely on the air cover provided by both the United States Air Force as well as the Iraqi Air Force to, you know, enable our ground troops to do what they need to do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What has the Obama administration though said? Will they be giving you more weapons?

TALABANI: They've been forthcoming. They understand the situation and the seriousness of the situation. And they have promised their assistance and they have started to assist. The airstrikes all have been very helpful and now we're looking forward to receiving supplies and weaponries. And hopefully that process can be sped up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think the U.S. needs to do more militarily? Do you think there need to be more airstrikes and perhaps even boots on the ground?

TALABANI: We are hoping for more airstrikes. We are not asking for boots on the ground. We have our own boots on the ground. The Kurdish forces are there. The Iraqi Army is there. I think with coordinated strikes, with support and supplies of U.S. military equipment, we should be able to repel this group. We should be able to eradicate this group from the country. But we can't just hit them once or twice and prevent them from attacking a city like Erbil. So long as this terrorist state exists here in Iraq, it's a danger to Iraq. It's a danger to Kurdistan. And it's a danger to the United States' allies in the region.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Thank you very much for joining us.

TALABANI: Thank you, Lourdes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.