The U.S. air-dropped relief supplies to a Kurdish area in northern Iraq Thursday where Islamic militants have trapped tens of thousands of religious minorities on a mountain.
A Defense Department official confirmed the humanitarian operation Thursday night.
"I can confirm that tonight, at the direction of the commander in chief, the U.S. military conducted a humanitarian assistance operation in Northern Iraq to air drop critical meals and water for thousands of Iraqi citizens threatened by [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] near Sinjar," the official said in a statement.
"The mission was conducted by a number of U.S. military aircraft under the direction of U.S. Central Command," the official added. "The aircraft that dropped the humanitarian supplies have now safely exited the immediate airspace over the drop area."
A C-17 and two C-130 transport aircraft dropped 53,000 gallons of water and thousands of meals ready to eat, or MREs -- enough to feed roughly 8,000 people, according to a senior administration official. The cargo aircraft were accompanied by two F-18 fighter jets for protection during the low-altitude drops.
The U.S. military is prepared to make repeated drops to help serve all of the Iraqis stranded on Mt. Sinjar in the Kurdish region in northwestern Iraq. Earlier in the day, the Iraqi military had tried to drop their own relief supplies in the same area but were unsuccessful so American forces stepped in after coordinating the drops with Iraqi officials.
Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration is working “intensely” on the humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq and condemned the “cold and calculating manner” in which Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was targeting religious and ethnic minorities in the areas now under its control.
During the afternoon briefing with reporters Earnest would not confirm whether the U.S. was considering dropping the relief supplies itself or whether the Iraqi military was planning to do so. He also wouldn't confirm reports that Obama is considering launching airstrikes to try to rout ISIS from the northern Kurdish region, where the insurgents have seized control of two cities.
The White House on Thursday evening released a photo of Obama meeting with his national security team in the White House Situation Room as they considered next steps in Iraq.