Today's D Brief: More US strikes in Iraq, Yemen; Turkey clears Sweden for NATO; More F-35 delays; Arms for Ukraine; And a bit more.
The U.S. military carried out more airstrikes inside both Iraq and Yemen overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday morning.
The Iraq strikes hit “three facilities used by the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group and other Iran-affiliated groups in Iraq,” according to a statement Tuesday evening from Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin. Those strikes “targeted KH headquarters, storage, and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities,” officials from the Tampa-based Central Command announced afterward. They were also a “direct response to a series of escalatory attacks against U.S. and Coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-sponsored militias,” Austin said. Several of those strikes have injured U.S. forces inside Iraq, including most recently over the weekend.
By the way: The U.S. military in Africa carried out separate new strikes on Sunday targeting al-Shabab militants in southern Somalia. "The initial assessment is that the U.S. airstrike killed three al Shabaab terrorists and that no civilians were injured or killed," AFRICOM said in a short statement.
The Yemen strikes early Wednesday targeted “two Houthi anti-ship missiles that were aimed into the Southern Red Sea and were prepared to launch,” CENTCOM said in a separate statement. “U.S. forces subsequently struck and destroyed the missiles in self-defense,” CENTCOM said.
White House reax: “As the President has made clear, we will not hesitate to take further action as appropriate,” John Kirby of the National Security Council said Tuesday before the two operations above were made public.
Twenty-three nations joined the U.S. to condemn the Houthis’ attacks along the Red Sea corridor on Tuesday, a day after U.S. and British airstrikes hit eight more missile-related targets inside Yemen. “The thirty-plus attacks that the Houthis have launched on commercial and naval vessels since mid-November constitute a threat to all countries that rely on international maritime shipping,” the two dozen countries said in a joint statement. “We condemn these attacks, and demand an end to them,” they added.
Developing: A bipartisan group of senators want to know the White House’s overall plan and strategy when it comes to these attacks on Houthi missile infrastructure. The inquisitive ensemble includes Senate Foreign Relations members Tim Kaine, D-Virginia; Todd Young, R-Indiana; and Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, as well as Mike Lee, R-Utah.
“The Administration has stated that the strikes on Houthi targets to date have not and will not deter the Houthi attacks, suggesting that we are in the midst of an ongoing regional conflict that carries the risk of escalation,” the senators warn. “As tensions in the region rise, we believe that American participation in another war in the Middle East cannot happen in the absence of authorization by Congress, following an open debate during which the American public can be informed of the benefits, risks, and consequences of such conflict,” they write in new letter to President Biden (PDF).
Iran has sent the Houthis drone jammers and long-range missile parts via a shadowy network of smugglers, Western officials and advisers told the Wall Street Journal, reporting Wednesday. That’s on top of Tehran sending advisors to work on the ground alongside the Houthis in Yemen. “Engineers in Yemen and other countries in the region help assemble the missiles and drones and operate them, and shipping-industry workers provide live intelligence about which vessels to target, the security advisers and officials said.”
The work is reportedly so involved that U.S. officials have asked the Swiss to bring up the matter with officials from Iran. The Journal also reports the Houthis are receiving some of these parts via “floating packages” as opposed to transfers from one ship to another, which might draw greater scrutiny from U.S. and allied surveillance efforts. More, here.
U.S. to China: tell Iran to curb Houthis’ Red Sea attacks. Over the past three months, U.S. diplomats have repeatedly asked Chinese counterparts “to convey a warning to Iran not to inflame tensions in the Middle East after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing war,” the Financial Times reports.
The results so far: One “mild statement Beijing issued last week calling on ‘relevant parties’ to ensure safe passage for vessels sailing through the Red Sea, a critical shipping route for global trade.” Read on, here.
ICYMI: The region’s chaos is serving Beijing, which is enjoying progress along several axes in the Middle East, Peter Singer and Kevin Nguyen wrote recently in Defense One.
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 1961, a U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52 carrying two 3.8-megaton nuclear bombs over eastern North Carolina experienced a fuel leak before breaking apart in mid-air, causing its crew to eject and its nuclear payload to fall to the ground without detonating. Both bombs were eventually located; but one of them was buried so deep, officials could not recover it all. So they installed an easement above the site, which is still apparent on satellite imagery to this day.
Turkey’s parliament approved Sweden’s accession to the NATO alliance on Tuesday, which now means Hungarian lawmakers are the only ones standing in the way of Stockholm’s historic move.
It’s been 616 days since Sweden and Finland simultaneously applied for NATO membership, when officials from both countries handed their letters of application to Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on May 18, 2022. Finland officially joined the alliance on April 4, 2023, becoming the 31st member of the Russia-focused group.
Why is Hungary holding up the process? Lawmakers from populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, “which holds a two-thirds majority in parliament, have refused to lend their support” and schedule a vote, the Associated Press reports from Budapest. And unless there is “a surprise emergency session, the matter is unlikely to go before lawmakers until at least late February.”
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with his Swedish counterpart Henrik Landerholm on Tuesday. The two discussed several matters, including Houthi attacks in the Red Sea as well as Israel’s war in Gaza and of course the Ukraine war; but Hungary was not once mentioned in the White House’s post-meeting readout.
New: Germany is sending Ukraine six large cargo helicopters, Defense Minister Boris Pistorious announced Tuesday.
Involved: Half a dozen Sea King Mk41s, along with spare parts. Germany will also train the Ukrainians on how to fly the Sea Kings, which Pistorious said can tackle “reconnaissance [missions] over the Black Sea,” among other tasks.
Berlin is also planning to send Ukraine more IRIS-T air defense systems, “over 80 Leopard 1 A5 main battle tanks as well as additional armored personnel carriers, engineer tanks and bridge-laying vehicles, 450 protected vehicles, other systems for mine clearance, as well as drones, radars and reconnaissance systems” in the months ahead, Pistorius said Wednesday.
More F-35 delays. The Pentagon will be getting fewer new F-35s again this year because already-tardy software won’t be ready until the third quarter of 2024, Lockheed officials said on Tuesday. The company will deliver just 75 to 100 of the tri-service jets this year, mostly in its second half, CEO James Taiclet told investors on an earnings call. That’s down from the 147-to-153 range announced just three weeks ago, and likely even less than the 96 or so delivered last year against the same target. D1’s Patrick Tucker has more, here.
And lastly today, our recently-departed Defense One colleague Marcus Weisgerber has officially joined the Washington-based consultants at Invariant as a member of their strategic communications and public affairs team.
“Invariant has a best-in-class ability to help disruptive defense and technology startups break through and build their reputation in Washington and among investors,” Weisgerber said, according to a news release published Wednesday. “The push and drive of the companies the firm represents is remarkable, and I’m thrilled to work alongside them,” he said.
Weisgerber joins a crew that includes former House Armed Services communications director Claude Chafin; former HASC communications director and public affairs officer for the Air Force, Monica Matoush; AI expert Melanie Harris; Loren Dealy Mahler; Morgan Viña; and others.
Congrats to Marcus, and all the best in his new gig!
P.S. Interested in becoming Defense One’s next business reporter? Email Brad Peniston: firstname.lastname@example.org.