Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.
THE TOPLINE: Rocket attack in Iraq
U.S. coalition forces said a rocket attack Monday on a military air base in northern Iraq killed a civilian contractor and injured a U.S. service member.
The rockets, which hit the base at Erbil International Airport and the surrounding area, injured nine people, eight of them civilian contractors.
The contractor who was killed was not an American, Col. Wayne Marotto, a spokesperson for coalition forces, tweeted early Tuesday.
The little we know: A U.S. official told Reuters the injured service member had a concussion.
Kurdistan Regional Government is leading an investigation on the attack, with further information to be released as it becomes available, Marotto said.
Lawmaker response: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE (D-N.J) condemned the attack and called for an investigation by Iraq's prime minister.
“This latest attack demonstrates the importance of robust security cooperation between the Iraqi Security Forces and those of Iraqi Kurdistan; and I encourage the United States to continue to support security coordination efforts,” Menendez said in a statement. “The Iraqi people have suffered for too long under these kinds of brazen acts of violence, which only serve to undermine the sovereignty and stability of their nation.”
State Department condemns: Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Diplomats express 'frustration' to Blinken over Havana syndrome skepticism: report Biden's post-Afghanistan focus on China is mostly positive so far MORE also said the U.S. was “outraged” by the attack.
“I have reached out to Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani to discuss the incident and to pledge our support for all efforts to investigate and hold accountable those responsible,” Blinken said in a statement.
Who claimed credit: The militant Shia group Saraya Awliya al-Dam claimed credit for the attack, saying the target was American forces. It comes after a series of attacks in recent weeks by groups with links to Iran in both Iraq and Yemen, most of which resulted in no casualties.
Some context: President BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE took office amid high tension between Washington and Tehran and has said he will explore a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, which the Trump administration withdrew from in 2018. Iran has said any such return to the deal will depend on the removal of heavy U.S. sanctions.
ROLLOUT UPDATE: Pentagon, FEMA to set up vaccination teams in Texas, NYC
Up to 3,700 active duty troops are on standby to administer COVID-19 vaccines at Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sites, with an eye on locations in Texas, New York and the Virgin Islands.
Several hundred service members have already been sent to FEMA sites in Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif., with more sites to be set up in Texas and New York in roughly a week, followed by the Virgin Islands in early March, U.S. Northern Command head Air Force Gen. Glen Vanherck told reporters on Tuesday.
Up to 3,700 troops “are allocated to prepare to deploy,” Vanherck said. “They haven’t been given a tasking to deploy at this time.”
The details: The goal is to administer millions of vaccines to areas hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.
Vanherck said that by Feb. 24, an Air Force team will be sent to Houston; an Army and Marine Corps team to Dallas; a Navy team to Queens, N.Y.; and an Air Force team to Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Pentagon is still finalizing plans with FEMA for two vaccination sites in the Virgin Islands, one in St. Thomas and one in St. Croix, to be set up “about the 1st or 2nd of March,” Vanherck added.
Background: FEMA in late January asked the Defense Department to help with President Biden’s goal of vaccinating 100 million people in the first 100 days of his presidency.
The Pentagon has so far authorized 25 military teams, a combined total of 4,700 active-duty service members, to help FEMA at state vaccination sites.
United States Northern Command has requested up to 100 teams in total, meaning roughly 18,000 troops could potentially administer 400,000 doses a day if all teams were used.
FROM THE WEEKEND: Biden's move on Yemen sparks new questions
Advocates cheered when President Biden announced an end to U.S. support for offensive military operations in Yemen, but questions are now being raised about what will actually change.
The Pentagon has said it halted intelligence sharing related to offensive operations, but that it is also reviewing how best to implement the new policy. The Biden administration has also pointed to its suspension of two precision-guided bomb sales to Saudi Arabia approved late in the Trump administration.
But the administration has also made clear it will continue defending Saudi Arabia from attacks, including after one this past week at an airport near the kingdom’s border with Yemen that singed a civilian plane. And the Pentagon has previously characterized U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia, including intelligence sharing, as largely defensive.
The question at hand now is what the administration will consider offensive support versus defensive.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The House Armed Services Committee will hear from defense officials on the Defense Department’s evolving roles and mission in response to the COVID-19 pandemic at 11 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118.
U.S. Space Command head Army Gen. James Dickinson will speak at a Washington Space Business Roundtable webinar on “U.S. Space Command: Successes, Challenges and How the Commercial Space Industry Can Play its Part in Advancing its Critical Mission,” at 12 p.m.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville will speak at the Heritage Foundation’s webinar on “Building an Army Ready for Great Power Competition,” at 1:30 p.m.
Brookings Institution will hold a webinar on “Women in Afghanistan and the Role of U.S. Support," with State Department Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko, at 2 p.m.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown will hold a conversation with media as part of the George Washington University Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group at 4 p.m.
Woodrow Wilson Center Asia Program will hold a webinar on “Assessing the Alliance: What Lies Ahead for the Korean Peninsula?" with former Republic of Korea Ambassador to the United States Ahn Ho-Young, at 7:30 p.m.
-- The Hill: New rule shakes up Senate Armed Services subcommittees
-- The Hill: 3 sailors on USS Theodore Roosevelt test positive for coronavirus
-- The Hill: Sullivan is Biden's national security 'listener'
-- The Hill: Iran has role in resolving Yemen conflict, US special envoy says
-- The Hill: Iran says it will block snap nuclear inspections if 2015 deal terms are not met
-- The Hill: Appearance of military vehicles in Myanmar's major cities sparks warning from US Embassy
-- The Hill: North Korean hackers targeted Pfizer coronavirus vaccine: report
-- The Hill: British military to restore medals to veterans stripped of them due to sexuality
-- The Washington Post: He became one of the Navy’s first Black four-star admirals. The military has work to do on diversity, he says.
-- The New York Times: The Taliban Close In on Afghan Cities, Pushing the Country to the Brink
-- Defense News: Biden admin wants new ‘tone’ with NATO, but the old challenges remain