Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, 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: U.S. troops in Iraq again come under rocket fire Wednesday, this time with two getting minor injuries.
Fourteen rockets were launched at al Asad Air Base in western Iraq at about 12:30 p.m. local time, Col. Wayne Marotto, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition Operation Inherent Resolve, confirmed on Twitter.
Marotto said the rockets landed on the base and its perimeter, and force defensive measures were activated. He later tweeted that all of the personnel at the base were accounted for following the attack, though “two personnel sustained minor injuries” and damage is still to be assessed.
Who did it: The United States did not immediately blame a specific group for the attack, though Marotto tweeted it was carried out by an “OMG,” which in this case means outlaw militia group.
A militant group calling itself “The brigades to avenge al-Muhandis” took responsibility for the attack on al-Assad, saying it will force U.S. troops “to leave our lands defeated.”
The group takes its name from Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, killed last year alongside Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a Trump administration-ordered drone strike in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, in Syria: Also on Wednesday, U.S.-backed forces in Syria said they stopped a drone attack on the al-Omar oil field in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, where U.S. troops are also located.
Context: Wednesday’s incidents are the type of attacks the recent U.S. airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias were meant to respond to and deter.
But Wednesday’s attacks were just the latest since those June 27 airstrikes.
Among the most recent attacks was one Monday at al Asad where three rockets landed at the base perimeter and caused no injuries. Also Monday, the State Department said defensive systems at the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad eliminated an airborne threat.
And on Tuesday, Erbil Air Base came under attack from a drone, but there were no injuries reported.
AIR FORCE RESPONSIBLE FOR 2017 SHOOTING, JUDGE SAYS
The Air Force is largely responsible for a 2017 mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a federal judge has ruled, citing the service’s failure to enter the gunman's criminal history into a federal background check database that might have prevented him from purchasing firearms.
Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people and wounded 22 others when he opened fire at the First Baptist Church; he killed himself shortly after what was the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.
In court documents filed on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez for the Western District of Texas ruled that Kelley was 40 percent responsible for the shooting while the U.S. government was 60 percent responsible.
“The evidence shows that — had the Government done its job and properly reported Kelley’s information into the background check system — it is more likely than not that Kelley would have been deterred from carrying out the Church shooting,” Rodriguez wrote.
Background: The ruling came in response to a 2018 civil complaint that families of the shooting's victims filed against the Air Force alleging negligence.
Kelley was given a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force in 2014 after being convicted in the military justice system of domestic assault.
But his criminal record and fingerprints were never given to the FBI and so he passed background checks when he purchased firearms in preparation for his attack.
US REACTS TO SHOCKING HAITIAN ASSASSINATION
The shocking assassination of Haiti’s president on Wednesday has given new urgency to an already dire situation in a country rocked by political instability, ongoing suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing violent crime.
The overture comes just two months after the Biden administration, in recognition of the fraught security situation, extended temporary protected status for Haitians residing in the U.S. who fled their country after a massive earthquake in 2010 created a humanitarian crisis.
What happened: Moïse’s killing at his private home on the outskirts of the capital Port-au-Prince is shrouded in mystery, with few details beyond Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph saying the nighttime attack was highly coordinated and carried out by a trained and heavily armed group.
First lady Martine Moïse was also shot and is said to be undergoing treatment.
A Haitian official called the attackers “mercenaries,” the Miami Herald reported, while noting that video taken by residents near Moïse’s house included audio of someone invoking the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), yelling in English: “DEA operation. Everybody stand down. DEA operation. Everybody back up, stand down.”
But sources told the newspaper that the assailants, one of whom reportedly spoke English with an American accent, were not with the DEA.
Public resentment against Moïse had been building over the past two years, and the circumstances surrounding his assassination have raised questions about what motivations were at play.
US lawmaker reaction: Members of Congress expressed shock and devastation at Moïse’s assassination, warning of the possibility of further turmoil in the island nation.
Among the reactions was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said the entire federal government condemns the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and the attack on his wife as a "barbaric act" and said the U.S. stands "ready to provide support and assistance to the people of Haiti during this challenging time.”
Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the assassination of the Haitian president a heinous act and criticized the Biden administration, and international community, for failing to anticipate the atrocity.
“The murder of Jovenel Moïse is a devastating if not shocking example of the extent to which the security situation in Haiti has unraveled. For months, violent actors have terrorized the Haitian people with impunity while the international community—the United States included, I fear—has failed to heed their cries to change course and support a Haitian-led democratic transition,” Levin wrote in a statement.
PENTAGON LIFTS MORE COVID RESTRICTIONS
In another step closer to normality, the Pentagon announced Wednesday evening it will drop its health protection level from “bravo” to “alpha” on Friday morning.
That means maximum occupancy at the Pentagon will now be 90 percent, up from 50 percent.
Health Protection Condition “Alpha is not a return to pre-COVID-19 ‘normal,’” the department said in a statement Wednesday. “While COVID-19 cases and positive test results in the National Capital Region and communities nationwide have significantly decreased since May 2021, the pandemic is still ongoing, and many people are not yet fully vaccinated. The Pentagon Reservation will continue force health protection measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our workforce.”
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Potomac Officers Club will hold its 2021 Air Force Acquisition Forum at 8 a.m. Speakers include Darlene Costello, the Air Force’s acting assistant secretary for acquisition technology and logistics. https://bit.ly/3hNJilg
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