ARUN RATH, HOST:
The United States has been bombing Iraq off and on for 23 years now. The latest chapter in that history began this week with airstrikes to weaken to the militant jihadist group known as The Islamic State or ISIS. That Group has been making advances on Iraqi territory in the north including the Kurdish city of Erbil where the U.S. maintains a consulate. President Obama spoke to reporters this morning.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Wherever and whenever U.S. personnel and facilities are threatened it's my obligation - my responsibility as commander-in-chief to make sure that they're protected.
RATH: American planes are also air-dropping food and water to the thousands of people trapped by ISIS forces on Iraq's Sinjar Mountain. Earlier, I spoke with Mitchell Prothero he's a correspondent from McClatchy reporting from Eribil. I asked him how the American airstrikes have affected the fighting between ISIS and Kurdish fighters known as the Peshmerga.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MITCHELL PROTHERO: There's a theory in combat called educating fire which is where you teach the other side exactly what you can do. And to a certain extent there's been a little bit of educating fire in the sense that the thing that they've been hitting have been in positions that are being used by artillery or mortars to attack the Peshmerga front lines. Guys will shoot off a few mortars and a drone comma and zap them basically, which of course is going to put ISIS sort of on its back heel a little bit because one of the things they rely on in terms of combat is the speed and maneuverability of these kind of large wolf packs of hundred pickup trucks with heavy machine guns mounted on the back that will swarm in out of the desert around a town and sort of overwhelm its defenses. That's going to be incredibly hard to do considering they're basically unarmored pickup trucks in a big flat desert if F-18's are flying around looking for things to bomb.
RATH: Now, are the Kurdish forces getting any support on the ground from the central Iraqi governement?
PROTHERO: We understand this week, around Monday after it was clear that a debacle was in the making, some mysterious flights started arriving in Erbil that people could see. I saw one of them come in - unmarked military transports that were unloading some equipment. In retrospect, it's sort of been announced that Baghdad has opened up its stocks of ammunitions and some small arms to assist the Kurds.
RATH: What have you heard about the group of people that haven being trapped by ISIS militants, this minority ethnic group, the Yazidis?
PROTHERO: There have been airdrops by the Americans, the Turks, and the Iraqis of food. The American on was quite extensive but at some time, you know, you drop in 8,000 meals and water that's an awful lot to drop from a plane but it's nowhere near enough if they got 40 to 50 thousand people up there. So as that crisis is unfolded what we've been finding out today is that the Iraqis have diverted military helicopters to a Kurdish base in the North and they're trying to evacuate them but again you're talking about a few hundred at time being pulled off the mountain. Some Peshmerga have gone into the mountains to help guide people out. But it's been a slow process and it does sound like tens of thousands of people remain up there until conditions.
RATH: Mitchel, what can you tell us about the mood in Erbil are people try to get out, are stores open?
PROTHERO: Stores are open and life is pretty normal. It's filled up with refugees, particularly from the Christian villages that got over run earlier this week. They've taken over most public spaces and a lot of abandoned building sites - half constructed buildings have been turned into shelters for them, they're all over the place. But in general, Erbil is not panicking. The Peshmerga have a good reputation as pretty tough fighters and as concerned as everybody was that they're too lightly equipped to take them on ISIS the combination of their repetition for tenacity as well as now the Americans helping out on at least some air support. People don't seem to be fleeing or preparing to flee like they were but that could also be part of the problem is just that the airport is essentially shut to flights coming in and out. I don't believe the airport is officially shut I just think that no air-line is willing to fly in or out of it right now.
RATH: That's Mitchel Prothero, he's a correspondent with McClatchy and he joined us on the line from Erbil in northern Iraq. Mitchel, thank you.
PROTHERO: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.