By Guy Taylor and Maggie Ybarra – The Washington Times
Kurdish forces backed by U.S. airstrikes succeeded Sunday in expelling Islamic State fighters from two northern Iraqi towns, but the developments did little to appease Obama administration critics who say the White House lacks a coherent long-term strategy for beating back the growing al Qaeda-inspired militancy in the war-torn nation.
As the Kurds advanced in northern Iraq, the power struggle in Baghdad intensified as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused the country’s newly elected president of engaging in a “coup” by failing to choose a new prime minister by now. The U.S. State Department publicly supported the Iraqi president.
The tempo of the U.S. military operation in northern Iraq increased throughout the weekend. American aircraft dropped food and water for tens of thousands of Yazidi ethnic-religious minorities who have been trapped for more than a week on a mountaintop by fighters from the Islamic State group.
With the humanitarian mission as a backdrop, U.S. fighter jets and drones pounded a range of targets controlled by the extremist Sunni Muslim group that shocked the world in June when its leaders declared the establishment of an Islamic caliphate spanning the Syria-Iraq border.
By Sunday afternoon, the U.S. airstrikes appeared to have created an opening for Kurdish militias in the area to retake territory seized by the Islamic State, whose fighters threatened last week to advance on the main Kurdish city of Irbil in northern Iraq.
Irbil has taken on added significance since President Obama dispatched dozens of U.S. advisers there in recent weeks to assess how Washington can bolster Kurdish forces.