The Early Edition: March 3, 2021

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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.

IRAQ

At least 10 rockets hit Ain al-Asad airbase, which hosts U.S. and coalition troops on Wednesday morning. It wasn’t immediately clear whether there were any casualties and no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. It was the first attack since the United States carried out a strike against Iran-backed militia targets in Syria last week. “The Iraqi military released a statement saying the attack did not cause significant losses and that security forces had found the launch pad used for the rockets.” Samya Kullab reports for the AP

Some Democrats are not satisfied so far with the Biden administration’s stated rationale for last week’s strikes in Syria. The administration briefed Senate aides on Tuesday on the rationale and legal justification for the strikes and Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sat in on the session. Afterward, he told reporters, “I still need to be convinced that any president has the authorization required to take a retaliatory strike, especially outside of Iraq …I didn’t hear anything today that convinced me that there was justification that I’d apply to any administration.” Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.

DOMESTIC TERRORISM

On Tuesday, FBI Director Chris Wray described the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol as an act of “domestic terrorism.” He also warned senators that domestic terrorism was “metastasizing across the country.” He said over the past two years, the number of domestic terrorism investigations being carried out by the FBI had reached 2,000 and that “the number of white supremacists arrested in 2020 had almost tripled from when he started running the F.B.I. three years earlier.” Adam Goldman reports for the New York Times

Wray also warned that the Jan. 6 attack was “an inspiration to a number of terrorist extremists” — both foreign and domestic. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO

Military leaders are prepared to defend the Pentagon’s response to the Capitol attack at a Senate hearing today. During hearings last week, the military was accused of not responding fast enough as violent rioters stormed the Capitol Building. But the military’s response is “that the National Guard is not a first responder unit capable of sending armed troops into a hostile situation with minimal planning.” The Senate hearing begins today at 10 a.m. Oren Liebermann and Barbara Starr report for CNN

U.S. Capitol Police are stepping up security due to a conspiracy theory concerning former President Donald Trump and the date March 4. “QAnon conspiracists have peddled the baseless claim that March 4 is the date of Trump’s true inauguration. This is based on the fact that presidents were inaugurated on March 4 prior to 1933,” Shawna Chen reports for Axios

SANCTIONS

The Biden administration accused Russian intelligence of poisoning Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny and announced its first sanctions against the Russian government for the attack on Tuesday. David Sanger and Steven Erlanger report for the New York Times

The U.S. government also announced it was imposing sanctions “on two military leaders of the Houthi movement in Yemen, accusing them of procuring weapons from Iran and organizing attacks,” Daphne Psaledakis and David Lawder report for Reuters. 

U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar introduced a bill on Tuesday to sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for his role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Al Jazeera reports

The Biden administration never considered sanctions against MBS a viable option. Vivian Salama, Alex Marquardt, and Kylie Atwood report for CNN

CORONAVIRUS

President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the United States “would have enough Covid-19 vaccine doses for every adult American by the end of May, dramatically accelerating his timeline but acknowledging the country must still be vigilant against the virus,” Kevin Liptak, Jeff Zeleny, and John Harwood report for CNN

Dismissing the advice of the CDC, some states started lifting their public health restrictions on Tuesday. “Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas announced on Tuesday that he was abandoning the state’s face mask requirement imposed amid the coronavirus pandemic and will allow businesses to operate at full capacity, saying ‘it is now time to open Texas 100 percent.’” Julie Bosman and Lucy Tompkins report for the New York Times

In Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves also put an end to statewide restrictions, but said, “If businesses or individuals decide to take additional precautions, they are absolutely within their right. In fact, it might be smart.” Nick Judin reports for the Mississippi Free Press

A Wednesday morning explosion at a coronavirus testing center in the Netherlands appears to have been intentional, according to police. “The incident comes shortly before national elections on March 17 widely seen as a referendum on the government’s handling of the pandemic,” Eva Plevier reports for Reuters

As other countries begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Brazil is battling a new, more contagious variant of coronavirus, which means continued record-setting death tolls and a health care system still dangerously close to collapse. Scientists are warning other countries to pay attention, especially as new studies show this variant can infect people who have recovered from other versions of the virus. Manuela Andreoni, Ernesto Londoño, and Letícia Casado report for the New York Times

In Israel, where the government has carried out one of the most successful vaccination programs, the COVID infection rates are rising, but health experts say that might not matter much now that those who are most at risk of severe illness have been vaccinated. Ido Efrati reports for Haaretz

MYANMAR

Protests have turned deadly again today, with police reportedly using live ammunition to disperse crowds in several cities and towns. The AP reports

Myanmar authorities have charged Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw, as well as five other members of the media, with crimes. The public order law they are accused of violating “was amended by the junta last month to broaden its scope and increase the maximum prison term.” The AP reports.

There is a showdown brewing at the United Nations over who is going to represent Myanmar at the global body. The military wants to remove the ambassador, U Kyaw Moe Tun, who denounced the military coup in a speech before the General Assembly on Friday, and replace him with a deputy, but the ambassador has indicated he’s not stepping down. Rick Gladstone reports for the New York Times

The extreme violence being used by the military and the police against protesters is being captured on video, thanks to the widespread use of phones and cameras. “The New York Times reviewed dozens of these videos, which show both soldiers and police officers using a variety of weapons, including shotguns, flash bangs, tear gas grenade launchers and rifles.” Evan Hill, John Ismay, Christiaan Triebert, and Haley Willis report for the New York Times

ETHIOPIA

The ousted leader of Ethiopia’s Tigray region is accusing the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments of genocide. “President of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front Debretsion Gebremichael called for an independent probe into alleged killings, rape and violence, including those revealed in a CNN investigation published on Friday last week.” Barbara Arvanitidis, Nima Elbagir, and Eliza Mackintosh report for CNN

In a Tuesday phone call with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed for an end to hostilities in the northern Tigray region, citing a “growing number of credible reports of atrocities and human rights violations and abuses.” Reuters reports

The BBC reporter who was detained by the Ethiopian military has been freed. BBC News reports

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Three female journalists were killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday amidst a wave of targeted killings of judges, prosecutors, civil society activists, and journalists. Zabihullah Ghazi and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report for the New York Times

New satellite images reveal North Korea has recently taken steps to conceal a nuclear weapons site. New satellite imagery “shows North Korea built new structures at its Yongdoktong site over the course of 2020 — an effort researchers say is likely intended to obscure a pair of underground tunnel entrances that lead to the facility where nuclear weapons are stored.” Zachary Cohen and Kylie Atwood report for CNN

Reporters without Borders has filed a criminal complaint against Mohammed bin Salman in German court. “The 500-page complaint, filed with the German public prosecutor in general in the federal court of justice in Karlsruhe, centres on the ‘widespread and systematic’ persecution of journalists in Saudi Arabia, including the arbitrary detention of 34 journalists there and the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist.” Stephanie Kirchgaessner  and Michael Safi report for the Guardian

Channing D. Phillips is being tapped to serve as acting U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., and is expected to serve until there is confirmation of a permanent top federal prosecutor for the District.Spencer S. Hsu, Keith L. Alexander, and Meagan Flynn report for the Washington Post

The Senate Intelligence Committee by a unanimous voice vote on Tuesday confirmed William Burns to become CIA director. Mark Hosenball reports for Reuters

Two Americans — a father and son who allegedly helped former Nissan Motors Chairman Carlos Ghosn flee Japan — have been extradited to Tokyo, where they face up to three years in prison if convicted. Scott Neuman reports for NPR 

About the Author(s)

Kate Brannen

Editorial Director of Just Security; Follow her on Twitter (@K8brannen).