U.S. Steps Up Offensive Against Iranian Proxies

Happy Monday! Apple made its opening gambit in the virtual reality market with the release of its Vision Pro headset on Friday, the company’s first entirely new product in seven years. Early reviews are largely positive, but we’ll need some real convincing before we drop $3,500 on glorified ski goggles.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The U.S. military on Friday carried out strikes on more than 85 targets in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for the deaths of three U.S. service members last week after an Iranian-backed militia struck Tower 22, a U.S. base in northern Jordan. The Pentagon said the U.S. strikes targeted a variety of facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and linked militias, and National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Sunday that “there will be additional response action taken by the administration against the IRGC and these groups that they’re backing.” In an interview with NBC News on Sunday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan didn’t rule out striking targets in Iran itself. Meanwhile, the U.K. and U.S. on Saturday launched a wave of strikes in Yemen, targeting sites controlled by the Iranian-backed Houthis. Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands, and New Zealand provided intelligence and logistics support for the attacks on 36 targets at 13 locations in Yemen, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said. CENTCOM also announced an additional strike on Sunday, which hit a Houthi anti-ship missile the U.S. says was preparing to launch against ships in the Red Sea.
  • At least 112 people have died since forest fires broke out across a heavily populated area of central Chile on Friday. Chilean President Gabriel Boric said Sunday he expected the death toll to rise as firefighters struggle to contain the blazes that have thus far damaged nearly 1,400 homes. The fires, which started during a summer heat wave in the South American country, are threatening Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, two coastal cities popular with tourists.
  • Northern Ireland installed its first nationalist leader as Michelle O’Neill—a member of Sinn Fein who favors Northern Ireland’s reunification with the Republic of Ireland—became first minister on Saturday after her party’s success in the 2022 legislative elections. Northern Ireland—which is a part of the U.K.—has spent two years without a government after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) walked away from the legislature over disagreements regarding post-Brexit trade agreements. O’Neill and her DUP counterpart, Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly, have equal power and neither can function without the other, but O’Neill holds the more prestigious title of first minister because her party holds more seats in the legislature.
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Saturday that the lower chamber will vote this week on $17.6 billion in aid for Israel without the offsetting cuts to the Internal Revenue Service that angered Democrats during supplemental funding battles in the fall. The package would undercut bipartisan negotiations in the Senate over a bill—the text of which was released Sunday—that would link funding for Israel, Ukraine, and the Indo-Pacific with immigration reform, but is unlikely to receive support in the Republican-controlled House even if it manages to pass the Senate. House Republicans’ standalone aid package would fund Israel’s missile defense system as well as U.S. military operations in the region. 
  • Federal District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing special counsel Jack Smith’s case against former President Donald Trump regarding his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, on Friday removed his trial from her schedule, officially indicating it will not begin on March 4 as originally planned. The delay allows the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to consider whether the former president is immune from prosecution. 
  • In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis—who is bringing a sprawling racketeering case against Trump and several of his associates—confirmed on Friday her romantic relationship with a special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, who is also working on the case, but denied that the relationship should disqualify either of them from continuing on the case. Both Wade and Willis, who say their relationship began in 2022, after Willis hired Wade in 2021, pushed back on the claim that she had benefited financially from hiring Wade by having him pay for trips the pair took together, writing in a court filing that “financial responsibility for personal travel taken is divided roughly evenly” between the pair. A defendant in the Georgia case, Michael Roman, is seeking to have the charges against him dismissed and Willis disqualified based on the allegations of misconduct. 
  • President Joe Biden won the Democratic primary in South Carolina on Saturday—the Democratic Party’s first official primary of the cycle—with more than 96 percent of the vote. In South Carolina—where black voters in particular helped to deliver Biden a critical victory in the 2020 primary—self-help author Marianne Williamson and Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, Biden’s two long-shot Democratic challengers, split the remaining four percent.
  • Axios reported Sunday that Nikki Haley’s presidential campaign raised $16.5 million in January, including more than $5 million in online grassroots donations in the days following her second-place finish in New Hampshire’s GOP primary, when Donald Trump vowed to “permanently bar” Haley donors from the MAGA camp. There’s been little recent polling of the race in South Carolina, but one survey last week—from Monmouth University and the Washington Post—showed Haley trailing Trump in her home state 58 percent to 32 percent.
  • Carl Weathers, who played Apollo Creed in the Rocky film franchise, died on Thursday at the age of 76. The Louisiana-born actor started his career as a professional football player in the NFL and Canadian football league before leaving the sport to become an actor in 1974. He died in his sleep, according to his manager. 
  • Taylor Swift won the award for album of the year at the 66th annual Grammy Awards last night for her album Midnights, becoming the first artist to win four album of the year awards—and announcing a new album is on the way for good measure. Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” won the award for song of the year, and Victoria Monét won best new artist.

A Weekend of Retaliation

Air Force Lt Col. Crystal Glaster, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations deputy commander; Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, Chief of U.S. Army Reserve; Gen. Randy George, Chief of Staff of the Army; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, first lady Dr. Jill Biden, and U.S. President Joseph Biden stand for a prayer during the dignified transfer for fallen service members U.S. Army Sgt. William Rivers, Sgt. Breonna Moffett, and Sgt. Kennedy Sanders at Dover Air Force Base on February 2, 2024, in Dover, Delaware. U.S. Army Sgt. William Rivers, Sgt. Breonna Moffett, and Sgt. Kennedy Sanders was killed in addition to 40 other troops were injured during a drone strike in Jordan. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Nearly a week after an attack by an Iranian-backed militia group on a U.S. military base in Jordan killed three American service members and wounded dozens more, President Joe Biden announced the American reprisal. “Our response began today,” Biden said in a statement released on Friday describing the first wave of retaliatory airstrikes. “It will continue at times and places of our choosing.”

The U.S. struck more than 85 targets at seven sites in Iraq and Syria on Friday, hitting operations and intelligence centers, weapons caches, and storage facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and affiliated militant groups. The strikes—targeting the militias in the Middle East and their Iranian sponsors “who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces,” according to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)—represent the White House’s latest attempts to stop the Islamic Republic’s regional aggression. But as Iranian proxies threaten continued violence, political opponents at home are accusing Biden of projecting weakness on the world stage—at the expense of American lives.

The strikes on Friday—the first official U.S. retaliation in response to the deadly attack on the Tower 22 base in Jordan—utilized long-range B1 bombers and reportedly killed at least 40 people. Three sites in Iraq and four in Syria were struck in a span of 30 minutes, and were selected based on their connection to specific previous attacks on American troops. “This wasn’t just a message-sending routine,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday. “This was about degrading capability; taking away, in a more robust way than we have in the past—taking away capabilities by the IRGC and the militant groups.”

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