Even as warplanes dropped the first U.S. bombs on Islamic militant targets in northern Iraq, President Barack Obama faced doubts inside his administration and out that the limited mission he circumscribed is enough to shift the balance in a conflict threatening to tear Iraq apart.

Backed into a corner after months of steadfastly avoiding direct U.S. military action in the Iraq crisis, Obama has reluctantly ordered intervention in a country that Americans thought they had left behind long ago.

Now that the president elected in 2008 on a platform to end the Iraq war has returned the United States to a battlefield role for the first time since he pulled out troops 2½ years ago, there are questions about whether he has an endgame.