The United States has begun its first-ever airstrikes in direct support of Iraqi ground forces, in the opening move of what could be a protracted fight against so-called Islamic State militants in the region.

NPR's Tom Bowman, on Morning Edition, says the airstrikes, south of Baghdad, targeted an Islamic State position after Iraqi soldiers fighting them requested the assistance.

"This is something new," Tom says. "For the first time, U.S. airstrikes have been in support of Iraqi forces."

U.S. Central Command said Monday night that six Islamic State vehicles had been destroyed in the airstrikes.

The U.S. has also sent 475 military trainers to Iraq, Tom says. "They will join a few hundred trainers already there," he explains.

"They will be setting up in centers in Irbil and Baghdad," he adds. "Also, the U.S. will be setting up a military headquarters in Iraq headed up by a two-star general with dozens of staff members. And they'll oversee this expanded effort in Iraq — the airstrikes, and also the help from other countries in the region."

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