The jihadist army Islamic State captured hundreds of Yazidi women Friday even as the U.S. begins an airstrike campaign against the terrorist group.
A spokesman for Iraq's human rights ministry, Kamil Amin, says the women are below the age of 35, and some are being held in schools in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city. He said the families of the women told the ministry about the kidnappings.
Amin told The Associated Press, "We think that the terrorists by now consider them slaves, and they have vicious plans for them."
The Yazidis follow an ancient religion with ties to Zoroastrianism.
According to a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information came from classified intelligence reports, the U.S. has confirmed IS, also known as ISIS, has kidnapped and imprisoned Yazidi women so they can be sold or married off to extremist fighters.
When IS fighters recently overran the town of Sinjar, more than 50,000 Yazidis fled for the mountains. Some men were reportedly captured and killed; some women were taken as sex slaves.
"This is a desperate situation, particularly for children," UNICEF Chief Field Officer Will Parks said. "We know for sure that 40 -- four-zero -- children have already died. That's the numbers we can confirm, but it's probably much more than that."
"The situation for them is they're on the mountains; they're on the sides of the mountains; they've got no vegetation, no cover," he explained. "They're sleeping out in the open; they've got no food, no water, no medical supplies."
President Barack Obama ordered humanitarian airdrops to provide water and other needed supplies to sustain the desperate and dying Yazidis, saying they face almost "certain death."
Meanwhile, U.S. Navy planes began launching airstrikes against IS Friday, according to the Pentagon.
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby confirmed two F/A-18 jets bombed a piece of artillery being towed by a truck.
In addition, the U.S. also launched two more airstrikes against Islamic State targets in northern Iraq. They hit a vehicle convoy and two mortar positions near the city of Irbil, the Pentagon said.
The news comes one day after President Obama said he was prepared to use military force in Iraq to prevent genocide and to stop the Islamic terrorists from advancing into northern Iraq.
"Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, 'There is no one coming to help.' Well, today, America is coming to help," the president said from the White House Thursday night. "The United States of America cannot turn a blind eye. We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide,"
And, he says the U.S. will not hesitate to launch military air strikes against Islamic State fighters if they advance to the Kurdish capital of Erbil.
"ISIS forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yazidi people, which would constitute genocide. So these innocent families are faced with a horrible choice: descend the mountain and be slaughtered -- or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger," the president said.
"When we face a situation like we do on that mountain -- with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale... then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye. We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide," he said.
One goal of the Islamic State is to clear its territory of all non-Muslims. The group has already ejected the Yazidi religious group from the northwestern cities of Sinjar and Zumar.
IS is also fighting to control the nearby Mosul Dam. That would give it control of the water and electricity flowing into Mosul and other parts of the northern Nineva plains.
And more recently, at least 100,000 Christians have once again fled Qaraqosh, and other towns near Mosul. Qaraqosh is the largest Christian city in the north.
More than half a million Iraqis have fled fighting in the north since June. CBN Disaster Relief has provided many of them, including Christians from Qaraqosh, with requested items like soap and towels, mattresses, pillows, and powdered milk.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State isn't constraining it's jihad to Iraq. The group is gaining more territory in Syria, and now it's even moved into Lebanon.
The city of Arsal is just over the mountains, not far from Syria in Lebanon's Bekka Valley. It's predominantly Sunni Muslim, and some of its more militant citizens are supporters of the Islamic State and its self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
So far, the Lebanese army has been unable to drive the IS fighters from Lebanese territory. Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is living in exile in Saudi Arabia, announced the Saudis will give the Lebanese $1 billion to help combat the Islamic terrorists.
Meanwhile in Baghdad, as the president mentioned, it was the tearful plea of one Yazidi lawmaker, Vian Dakheel, that inspired U.S. action.
'We are being killed. We are being butchered. A whole religion is being wiped out from the earth!" Dakheel said. "Our families have been slaughtered!"
"Set aside your political differences," she urged. "In the name of humanity, I call upon all of you to save us, to save us."
It's a plea that has finally found a response from the White House.