Today's D Brief: US hits Yemen again; ‘God’s-eye’ view of Ukraine; SecDef’s back; Secret presidential fleet; And a bit more.

The White House will soon relist the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as specially designated global terrorists, U.S. officials told the Associated Press on Tuesday. 

Context: The militia (also known as “Ansarallah”) was delisted almost exactly three years ago as part of President Joe Biden’s campaign goal to de-escalate the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and free up humanitarian aid to millions of Yemenis in poverty. But almost three dozen Houthi missile attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea since mid-November have reversed many U.S. lawmakers and now the White House’s interest in working with the Houthis toward some sort of peace deal in Yemen. 

By the way: The U.S. military carried out another airstrike inside Yemen Tuesday, destroying four Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles, Central Command officials announced afterward. “These missiles were prepared to launch from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and presented an imminent threat to both merchant and U.S. Navy ships in the region,” said CENTCOM in a short statement. 

Worth noting: France did not take part in those “pre-emptive” airstrikes Tuesday because Paris wants to “avoid any escalation,” President Emmanuel Macron told reporters.

Capitol Hill reactions: The Houthis’ “actions clearly meet the definition of terrorism, and I strongly support designating them as a terrorist organization,” Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, said Tuesday after the AP report.  

“From day one, the Biden Administration met Iranian aggression with accommodation and squandered the credibility of American deterrence,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. “It’s time for [President Biden] to explain how exactly he intends to compel Iran and its proxies to change their behavior,” he said. 

“Removing [the Houthis] from the list of terror organizations was a deadly mistake and another failed attempt to appease the Ayatollah,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, said. “Joe Biden’s weakness and poor judgement [sic] continues to put our security at risk,” he added. 

“Now, the administration needs to take the next step and formally designate the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska.

You may wonder: What’s the difference between “specially designated terrorists” and a “foreign terrorist organization” label? The latter would include travel bans, immigration restrictions, and additional sanctions for anyone supporting the Houthis, which could be rather a lot of Yemeni citizens, AP points out. Read more, here

What are your concerns when it comes to the Houthis and the future of Yemen? We’ll be tackling the topic in a future podcast episode, and would love to hear your thoughts via email.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1991, Operation Desert Storm began.

While Israel continues its brutal war on Hamas militants across Gaza, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with several top officials from the Middle East Tuesday in Davos, including Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, and the Prime Minister of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Masrour Barzani

Sullivan discussed Israel’s Gaza war with Al Thani, who told the Davos crowd Tuesday, “Gaza is not there anymore. I mean, there is nothing over there.” He also said Israel is being run by “extremists” who are blocking a two-state solution for peaceful co-existence with Palestinians. “We cannot leave this just at the hand of the Israelis,” he said. 

Qatar’s PM also said he thinks Houthi attacks on the Red Sea will stop if the Gaza war stops. “We need to address the central issue, which is Gaza in order to get everything else defused...if we are just focusing on the symptoms and not treating the real issues, (solutions) will be temporary,” Al Thani said at Davos on Tuesday.

The White House’s Sullivan discussed Iran’s ballistic missile strikes inside Iraq on Monday with the two Iraqi leaders. Sullivan also stressed the need to stop attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria in his conversation with PM al-Sudani; and he encouraged Kurdistan’s Barzani to export more oil.   

After striking inside Iraq and Syria, Iran launched more cross-border strikes inside Pakistan on Tuesday. Iran attacked two bases of the militant group Jaish al Adl with drone and missile salvos that killed two children, Pakistani officials said. The group has previously attacked Iranian forces near the two countries’ border, Reuters reports. AP called Iran’s eastward attacks “unprecedented.” Officials in Islamabad described them as a “completely unacceptable” breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty, and formally withdrew their ambassador to Iran hours later.  

Developing: Italy is urging the European Union to fast track approval of its own Red Sea maritime task force so it can be up and running by next week, which seems like an ambitious timeline, Reuters reported Wednesday from Rome. (Previous plans wouldn’t have established the unit until February 19.) More, here

Related reading: 

Biden’s Ukraine aid meeting. The president will host Congressional leaders at the White House this afternoon to push his national security supplemental request, which includes aid for Ukraine and Israel, among other things, administration officials announced.

Senate Republicans are pressing House Speaker Johnson to take a Democrat-proffered deal that would take steps to reduce migrant flows into the southern United States in return for approving the supplemental, Politico reports.

Calling Germany: POTUS also discussed the Ukraine and Gaza wars with his German counterpart, Olaf Scholz, on Tuesday. 

An unusual view of the Ukraine war. AP’s John Leicester flew on a ​​French Airborne Warning and Control System, or AWACS, aircraft keeping watch. “With a powerful radar that rotates six times every minute on the fuselage and a bellyful of surveillance gear, the plane can spot missile launches, airborne bombing runs and other military activity in the conflict. Read on.

Russia’s sat gap. The belligerent in the Ukraine war has very few satellites, and they’re pretty old. Defence Industry Europe has this roundup.

New parts. Despite sanctions meant to reduce Moscow’s access to key components of weapons, Western companies sent Russia parts worth $2.9 billion in the first 10 months of 2023—by Kyiv’s count. (Reuters)

Latvia’s drone drive. The country’s defense chief said his nation is assembling a coalition of almost 20 countries to arm Ukrainian forces with “thousands” of new drones. (Bloomberg)

After two weeks in the hospital, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday. The following day, he called his Ukrainian counterpart, Rustem Umerov, in Kyiv. Austin will host the Pentagon’s latest virtual Ukraine Defense Contact Group on Tuesday. 

ICYMI: The Daily Beast obtained audio of a phone call that seems to have triggered an ambulance driving the SecDef to Walter Reed in early January. Names were redacted from the recording, but the timing lines up pretty well, Shannon Vavra of TDB writes after submitting a Freedom of Information Act request. Read more, here

The untold history of Air Force One’s secret fleet. Service officials do not acknowledge the existence of four of the world's most prominent Boeing 757s, presidential aircraft whose tail numbers—if little else—are well-known to practiced plane spotters. Marcus Weisgerber, in his final report for D1, explains.