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Politics Overnight Defense: Rockets land in Iraq's Green Zone in third attack in week | US 'outraged' at attacks but won't 'lash out'

02:15  23 february  2021
02:15  23 february  2021 Source:   thehill.com

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Happy Monday 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.

a person riding on the back of a truck: Overnight Defense: Rockets land in Iraq's Green Zone in third attack in week | US 'outraged' at attacks but won't 'lash out' © Getty Images Overnight Defense: Rockets land in Iraq's Green Zone in third attack in week | US 'outraged' at attacks but won't 'lash out'

THE TOPLINE: A rocket attack in Iraq landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Monday, the third rocket strike near U.S. interests in Iraq in a week.

Two rockets landed in the Green Zone, the heavily guarded area of Baghdad that houses government buildings and foreign embassies. Iraqi security officials told The Associated Press the target was the U.S. Embassy.

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No injuries or deaths have been reported from the attack, which also included a third rocket that landed in the al-Harithiya district, according to Iraq's Security Media Cell. Some minor property damage was reported, including to four civilian vehicles, the cell said.

Who's responsible?: The Biden administration isn't saying yet.

A Shia militia known to have ties to Iran claimed responsibility for last week's attack in Erbil. But the both the Pentagon and State Department said Monday investigations into who is responsible for the attack are ongoing.

Still, the departments inched closer to tieing Iran to the attacks.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price highlighted that the Erbil attack used rockets that were "Iranian-made and Iranian-supplied."

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"We have stated before that we will hold Iran responsible for the actions of its proxies that attack Americans," he added, stressing that any response "will be done in coordination with our Iraqi partners and in coordination with the coalition as well."

While similarly declining to attribute the recent attacks, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby alluded to past attacks from Iran-backed Shiite militias and said "it's difficult to say with certainty ... whether there is a strategic calculation driving this this recent uptick in attacks or whether this is just a continuation of the sorts of attacks we've seen in the past."

How will the US respond?: That's also an open question.

Price said at the State Department briefing the United States is "outraged" by the attacks but wouldn't "lash out."

"When it comes to our response, we will respond in a way that is calculated, within our own timetable, and using a mix of tools at a time and place of our choosing, as you've heard me say before," he said. "What will not do is lash out and risk an escalation that plays into the hands of Iran and contributes to their attempts to further destabilize Iraq."

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At the Pentagon briefing, Kirby sidestepped a question on whether killing an American is a red line for the Biden administration but said the administration has been "perfectly clear our views about the malign activities that Iran continues to perpetrate throughout their region."

He also stressed that U.S. military commanders have the right of self-defense against "dangerous attacks."

"We take these attacks very seriously," Kirby said "And as the president himself noted, if and when it's appropriate to respond, we'll do so at a time and a place and in a manner of our choosing and certainly in consultation with our Iraqi partners."

BIDEN'S IRAN TEST

The rocket attacks are one dimension of the test Iran is posing for President Biden's diplomacy-first approach to foreign policy.

First and foremost is the Biden administration's efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal that former President Trump withdrew from and Iran subsequently breached.

Over the weekend, The Hill's Morgan Chalfant took a look at the challenges Biden is facing to restore the agreement after the administration last week announced it accepted an invitation from the European Union for talks with Iran and other signatories.

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Iran's pressure: Underscoring the difficulty, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed Monday not to give into U.S. pressure and said his country might enrich uranium up to 60% purity.

Iran had also threatened to greatly reduce international inspectors' access to its nuclear facilities by Sunday if sanctions weren't lifted. As the deadline came Sunday, the International Atomic Energy Agency reached a deal with Iran that will stave off the most significant effects of Iran's decision for three months, buying time for diplomacy, but access will still be less than before.

TO WATCH LATER THIS WEEK -- SEXUAL ASSAULT COMMISSION LAUNCH

In one of his first acts as Defense secretary last month, Lloyd Austin ordered a review of the military's sexual assault policies, saying he was acting on President Biden's orders to stand up a 90-day commission to tackle the issue.

The commission still hasn't officially been set up, but the Pentagon said Monday more details on it will come later this week.

At a meeting with senior Pentagon officials Monday morning, Austin "explained to them that he expects, before the end of the week, to formally announce the 90-day commission with more granularity and more detail," Kirby said at Monday's briefing.

Kirby himself did not provide any more details, saying he's "not going to get ahead of that announcement."

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More from the briefing: Austin's other big priority since taking office has been rooting out extremism from the ranks.

Questions persist on the extent of the issue and what Austin will do beyond the stand-downs he ordered, but Kirby strongly pushed back Monday at critics of Austin's focus.

"I don't think it's debatable that it is or it isn't an issue. What we don't know is the extent of it. And what we don't know is exactly and how best to go about eradicating that and the behavior that it inspires," Kirby said. "Nobody's debating whether it is or isn't an issue. It's really just about to what degree."

Kirby was specifically responding to a question about comments from former Trump administration official Kash Patel, who spent the last weeks of the Trump administration at Pentagon chief of staff, who said on Fox News over the weekend "the problem doesn't exist."

In response, Kirby highlighted a congressionally mandated report completed by the Trump administration that revealed inroads white supremacists have made in the military.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on "Emerging Technologies and Their Impact on National Security" with testimony from outside experts at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/2ZHdqGo

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on "Innovation Opportunities and Vision for the Science and Technology Enterprise" with testimony from outside experts at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/3dAiGDR

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) will speak at an online Reagan Institute event on "Building a 21st-Century Foreign Policy" at 1 p.m. https://bit.ly/37FQMTd

Overnight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video

  Overnight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video 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: Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) on Wednesday held his first media roundtable since becoming Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, and it was a wide ranging conversation touching on everything from extremism in the ranks to the defense budget to the U.S. military footprint abroad.

A House Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on "Near-Peer Advancements in Space and Nuclear Weapons" with testimony from outside experts at 3 p.m. https://bit.ly/2NtiEmA

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten will speak about missile defense at 3 p.m. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. https://bit.ly/2ZIPH8V

ICYMI

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Overnight Defense: One-third of service members decline coronavirus vaccine | Biden to take executive action in response to Solar Winds hack | US, Japan reach cost sharing agreement .
Happy Wednesday 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: A high-ranking military official on Wednesday said that a third of service members have declined to receive the coronavirus vaccine.During a House hearing on the Armed Forces' response to COVID-19, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, asked Maj. Gen Jeff Taliaferro, the vice director for operations, what percentage of service members have declined to receive the vaccine.

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