(New York Times) American warplanes struck Sunni militant positions in northern Iraq on Friday, the Pentagon and Kurdish officials said, returning American forces to a direct combat role in a country they withdrew from in 2011.

Two F-18 fighters dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery target near Erbil, according to a statement by Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. Militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria were using the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil, “near U.S. personnel,” Admiral Kirby said.

The strike followed President Obama’s announcement Thursday night that he had authorized limited airstrikes to protect American citizens in Erbil and Baghdad, and, if necessary, to break the siege of tens of thousand of refugees who are stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.

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