Iraqi and Kurdish officials have welcomed the US decision to authorize airdrops of humanitarian aid and airstrikes in northern Iraq to counter advancing Sunni radical militants.

A string of victories across the north of the country by the radical Islamic State group and their allies have sent Iraq’s minorities fleeing for their lives, exacerbating the country’s already-dire humanitarian crisis with another 200,000 displaced.

“We thank Barack Obama,” said Khalid Jamal Alber, of the Ministry of Religious Affairs for the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq. “Kurdistan is the place for religious minorities.”

Iraq’s Ministry of the Displaced also welcomed the aid drops.

The announcements by President Obama reflected the deepest American engagement in Iraq since US troops withdrew in late 2011 after nearly a decade of war.