WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama on Thursday promised to expand U.S. humanitarian relief to Iraqis threatened by the advancing army of the Islamic State militants. He took credit for alleviating the genocide threat to thousands trapped on a mountaintop but said the situation "remains dire" throughout the country.<br />
Obama also said U.S. airstrikes would continue to protect Americans and U.S. facilities in Iraq, and he said Washington has increased its delivery of military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State.<br />
But he gave no indication he intends to shift from the limited, defensive military campaign he announced last week to one designed to use American might to push back and eventually defeat an emboldened Islamic State army, which has made rapid and broad advances across western and northern Iraq since June.<br />
"We're going to be working with our international partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those who are suffering in northern Iraq wherever we have capabilities and we can carry out effective missions like the one we carried out on Mount Sinjar without committing combat troops on the ground," Obama said in a statement.<br />
His remarks highlighted the gap between the administration's increasingly dire assessment of the threat posed by the Islamic State group and the limited air campaign it has so far undertaken, which military officials acknowledge has had only a temporary, local effect and is not likely to blunt the group's momentum or ambitions.<br />
On Thursday, some of the most senior U.S. intelligence experts on terrorism briefed reporters in detail on the Islamic State group. They described a battle-hardened, well-funded terrorist organization that is bent on governing the territory it has seized in Syria and Iraq while also encouraging attacks in Europe and the United States.<br />
"We assess that the group probably sees conflict with the United States as inevitable," one of the officials said, speaking, as the others did, under ground rules that he not be identified.
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
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