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.

President Obama on Monday awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor, to two soldiers who served in Vietnam: Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie Adkins, who survived a harrowing battle and 18 body wounds; and Army Spc. 4 Donald P. Sloat, whose dying act saved his fellow soldiers.

In January 1970, President Obama said Monday, Sloat was on patrol with his squad in Vietnam.

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On Sunday, the New York Times ran an article full of President Obama's behind-the scenes reflections and conversations about ISIS and the Middle East. From that article: "He was acutely aware that the operation he was about to embark on would not solve the larger issues in that region by the time he left office. 'This will be a problem for the next president,' Mister Obama said ruefully, 'and probably the one after that.'"

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Last week, President Barack Obama made his case for increased U.S. intervention in Iraq and Syria. His plan to continue air strikes, and increase the arming of those opposed to the so-called Islamic State, commonly referred to as ISIS or ISIL, has been met with some resistance from a war-weary public and Congress. But national security expert Scott Bates thinks that working with Iraqi Kurdish forces could be the key to defeating this extremist organization.

President Obama arguably won the Democratic primary in 2008 because of his strong opposition to the Iraq war. Now he's arguing he doesn't need congressional approval to ramp up a bombing campaign in Iraq and expand air strikes into Syria.

An initial investigation by Dutch experts appears to support the long-held theory of what happened to MH17 over eastern Ukraine: The Malaysian airliner was brought down by multiple "high-energy objects from outside the aircraft."

Although the preliminary technical report by the Dutch Safety Board did not directly say the objects were surface-to-air missiles, it left little room to conclude otherwise.

The United States conducted airstrikes in Somalia late Monday, targeting the leadership of the al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabab.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

As the conflict between Ukraine and Russia continues to escalate, Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Murphy wants to call it what it is: a war.

A report presented by the United Nations today paints a pretty grim picture of Syria.

It tells the story of a country mired in a ruthless civil war in which all sides are indiscriminately killing and torturing civilians. It presents a laundry list of human rights violations and war crimes undertaken by both the forces of President Bashar Assad and non-state armed groups, such as the Islamic State, that are fighting to topple the regime.

Updated at 3:10 p.m. ET

The United Nations is calling for action to prevent what it's describing as a possible massacre in Iraq's northeastern city of Amerli, which has been under siege for two months by Islamic State militants.

The city's population is largely Turkmen Shia, seen as apostates by the hard-line Sunni Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel describes a failed U.S. mission into northern Syria earlier this summer to rescue Americans believed held there — including a journalist who was executed earlier this week — as "flawless" despite not recovering the hostages.

"This was a flawless operation, but the hostages weren't there," Hagel told journalists at a Pentagon briefing with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Pete Souza / White House

President Barack Obama congratulated Iraq's prime minster-designate in a statement on Martha's Vineyard during his vacation.

Iraq's president has asked the parliament's deputy speaker to form a new government, after members of the Shiite coalition that had backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki nominated the deputy, Haider al-Abadi, to the post Monday.

(This post was last updated at 8:44 p.m. ET.)

The U.S. military conducted several strikes against Sunni extremist militants near Irbil in Iraq Friday, in what the White House calls a limited engagement.

"Military officials say unmanned aircraft struck a terrorist mortar position," NPR's Tamara Keith reports, "and then when the fighters returned, they were attacked as well. Later, four FA-18 aircraft struck an ISIS convoy and another mortar position using eight laser-guided bombs."

In Gaza, Cease-Fire Expires As Rockets Fly

Aug 8, 2014

Just as the latest cease-fire expired, rockets flew into Israel from Gaza and Israel responded by ordering airstrikes in Gaza.

And just like that, a three-day negotiated peace came to an end. But NPR's Jackie Northam, who is reporting from Jerusalem, tells us it's still unclear if this renewed fighting is a sign of something broader.

This post was updated at 9:45 p.m. ET.

President Obama has authorized targeted airstrikes against Islamic militants where needed and if militants advance toward American personnel in northern Iraq, he said Thursday night.

The president also said American planes have dropped aid and supplies to religious minorities in Iraq who have fled the extremist group the Islamic State.

After nearly a month of fighting, a negotiated, three-day peace has taken hold in Gaza.

As NPR's Emily Harris reports, Israel has also ordered all of its troops out of Gaza. But this may not mean the end of the current conflict, because the Israel Defense Forces said its troops would maintain a defensive position and respond to any attacks.

Case in point: By morning just before the truce started, Emily said she heard rocket fire out of Gaza. But things have calmed down and the AP reports that in Gaza "traffic picked up and shops started opening doors."

In the waiting room at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, an Israeli woman was shouting at a Palestinian mother whose son was being treated for a beating he received from a Jewish mob.

"Go away you trash," the Israeli woman yelled at the Palestinian. "I would bury you in Gaza."

A second Israeli woman joined in the verbal barrage, complaining that her taxes shouldn't be paying for Palestinian treatment.

Two other Israeli women came over to comfort the Palestinian mother. But she is in no mood for reconciliation and retorted: "What good will your apologies do?"

While fighting between Israel and Gaza militants rages on for a fourth week, there's another war being fought among Israelis themselves — a war on speech. The nation is proud of its tolerance for free expression. But some Israelis critical of the war say their views are under attack; others say the dissent has gone too far.

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It was negotiated as a three-day humanitarian cease-fire that was to start at 8 a.m. local time today.

But just hours in, fighting erupted again in Gaza.

Palestinian authorities told The Associated Press that at least 27 people were killed in Gaza after an Israeli tank opened fire. NPR's Emily Harris reports that Israel accused Hamas of continuing its rocket fire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday dismissed international calls for an immediate cease-fire in the country's conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

"We need to be prepared for a long operation until our mission is accomplished," Netanyahu said in televised remarks.

He defined that mission the same way Israeli officials have since launching a ground offensive in Gaza: taking out the tunnels Hamas uses to infiltrate Israel.

Ever since its sweeping victory in the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel has been regarded as the dominant military power in the Middle East. No Arab state has risked a full-fledged war in decades, and few question the conventional wisdom that Israel would swiftly defeat any national army in a traditional, head-to-head confrontation.

Yet for the third time in the past decade, Israel's powerful military finds itself in a protracted, messy fight with a small, elusive, Islamist group and has been unable to score a quick and decisive victory.

Kerry: Gaza Truce Still In Play

Jul 25, 2014

Updated at 5:20 p.m. ET.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called reports that Israel's government had rejected a U.S. truce in Gaza "a mischievous leak" and said he's confident a deal can be reached.

Referring to earlier reports by Israeli TV that a seven-day cease-fire had been unanimously rejected, Kerry, speaking at a news conference in Cairo, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had assured him that the report is "an error and inaccurate.

Gaza Conflict: What To Know For Friday

Jul 25, 2014

Updated at 5:35 p.m. ET.

As the conflict between Israel and Gaza approaches the three-week mark, the fighting seems to have only intensified. At least 119 Palestinians were killed Thursday, making it the bloodiest day of the war.

A top White House adviser says any cease-fire agreement between Israel and Palestinians must include the demilitarization of Gaza.

In an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said "that needs to be the end result."

"There has to be some way forward that does not involve Hamas having the ability to continue to rain down rockets on Israeli civilians," Blinken said.

Asked if this means the U.S. has endorsed Israel's demand that Hamas give up its weapons, Blinken said:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to Egypt today in an effort to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

In a statement, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry would meet with Egyptian and other senior officials.

Updated at 10:30 p.m. ET.

A spokesman for Hamas claimed Sunday that the group has captured an Israeli soldier. Reuters quotes Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, as saying that no Israeli soldier has been kidnapped.

It's the latest development in a bloody day of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Israel's military said today that a series of attacks on its forces inside the Gaza Strip has killed 13 soldiers, by far the heaviest single-day toll for its troops since the beginning of the offensive nearly two weeks ago.

Updated at 4:35 p.m. ET.

International investigators say armed rebels have limited their inspection of the Eastern Ukraine site of the downed Malaysian Airlines flight that killed nearly 300 passengers and crew, as Kiev accused pro-Russian separatists of destroying evidence at the scene.

Israel has unleashed repeated military offensives in the Gaza Strip since 2000 and has never been able to permanently suppress Palestinian rocket fire or seal off the territory's smuggling tunnels.

So why is Israel launching another major ground incursion now, and is there any reason to think the outcome will be different this time?

Israeli Ground Operation In Gaza Continues

Jul 18, 2014

This post was updated at 6:15 p.m. ET:

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will travel to the Middle East on Saturday in hopes of finding a way to stop the fighting between Israel and Hamas.

"Israel has legitimate security concerns, and we condemn the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel that ended yesterday's temporary cease-fire," Jeffrey Feltman, deputy U.N. secretary-general for political affairs, told the Security Council on Friday. "But we are alarmed by Israel's heavy response."