The Pentagon says it is deploying an additional 3,000 troops to Eastern Europe, as the Biden administration continued to accuse Russia of planning to invade Ukraine. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said U.S. troops would deploy to Germany, as well as Romania and Poland, which border Ukraine.
John Kirby: “The current situation demands that we reinforce the deterrent and defensive posture on NATO’s eastern flank. President Biden has been clear that the United States will respond to the growing threat to Europe’s security and stability.”
A Kremlin spokesperson accused the U.S. of “igniting tensions on the European continent.” Meanwhile, the White House said it would no longer describe a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine as “imminent.” We’ll have more on the crisis over Ukraine later in the broadcast.
The White House says a large-scale counterterrorism operation by U.S. forces in Syria has killed ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. Witnesses said the two-hour assault by U.S. special forces and helicopter gunships on the village of Atmeh near the Turkish border left 13 people dead, including six children and four women, with body parts scattered near the site of the assault.
This follows massive airstrikes carried out by Turkey in northern Iraq and Syria. Turkey’s defense minister said the bombings targeted members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK, as well as the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, both of which Turkey claims are terrorist groups. One Turkish air raid that destroyed an electric power station in northern Syria also injured nearby civilians.
Othman Hussein Suleiman: “I was inside having dinner. Then I headed out for tea. Then I heard the sound of a warplane and ran to tell my colleagues. And I don’t know what happened next. All I remember is that I heard the sound of two explosions.”
Kurdish forces said the U.S.-backed coalition opened an airspace corridor for Turkey to bomb northeastern Syria. Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces condemned the airstrikes as a violation of Iraqi airspace.
At least 60 people were killed during an attack on a camp for displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At least 15 of the victims were children. Aid groups are calling on Congolese authorities to ensure the protection of civilians in the area amid a spate of violent attacks by militant groups. The camp, called Plaine Savo, is located in the eastern province of Ituri and is home to over 24,000 people, many of them families with children.
The U.S. reported more than 3,600 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, even as daily cases and hospitalizations continued to decline from January’s record levels. In Washington, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said a panel of vaccine experts would carefully review Pfizer’s application asking the FDA to authorize its vaccine for children as young as 6 months old.
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy: “Pfizer’s application will now undergo the same independent, rigorous and transparent review process that was used to authorize the vaccines that now more than 250 million Americans have received, including millions of children ages 5 and up.”
As it awaits the FDA’s response, Pfizer has extended its clinical trial to see if a third dose produces a stronger immune response in young children. Initial tests showed two doses failed to mount a strong response in kids aged 2 to 4.
The U.S. Army said it will immediately begin discharging soldiers who refuse to comply with the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate. More than 3,300 Army personnel have so far refused COVID shots.
Meanwhile, a New York Times analysis shows the United States has a far higher per capita death rate from COVID than other wealthy nations, likely due to lower vaccination rates and disparities in U.S. healthcare.
In Ecuador, the death toll from Monday’s flooding and mudslide in the capital Quito has climbed to 24 people, with six people still missing. It was the heaviest rainfall the area has seen in nearly two decades.
In other news from Ecuador, a court has rejected plans to drill for oil in a protected area of the Yasuní National Park in the Amazon. It’s a major victory for Indigenous and land rights and comes just days after a pipeline burst and started spewing crude oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Back in the United States, President Biden’s nomination of Jennifer Rearden as a federal judge has provoked backlash among progressives. As a lawyer for the firm Gibson Dunn, Rearden represented Chevron in its lawsuit against environmental and human rights lawyer Steven Donziger. Donziger successfully sued Chevron on behalf of Indigenous groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon whose land was contaminated by the oil giant.
President Biden and Senate Democrats have been moving fast to confirm judicial nominations, with 42 federal judges confirmed since Biden took office — the highest number in decades. Of these, over three-quarters were women and nearly three-quarters people of color. But Democrats in the evenly split Senate could see some confirmations stalled as New Mexico Democrat Ben Ray Luján is expected to be out for at least four weeks after suffering a stroke last week. Biden vowed to nominate a Supreme Court justice to fill Stephen Breyer’s seat by the end of the month.
House Democrats have accused U.S. food and energy corporations of price gouging and “pandemic profiteering” that’s contributed to the largest surge in inflation since the 1980s. Congressmember Frank Pallone said at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday that corporate executives have unfairly raised prices not only on pandemic essentials like COVID tests, masks and hand sanitizer, but also on staple items like food and fuel.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.: “I do think that corporate greed is motivating large companies to use the pandemic and supply chain issues as an excuse to raise prices simply because they can. And a lot of executives brazenly boast to investors about raising prices on consumers without consequences, and these executives are saying they’re going to continue to do so.”
A journalist in Cancún, Mexico, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt Tuesday night after his attacker’s gun malfunctioned. Netzahualcóyotl Cordero García, the director of the online news site CGNoticias, was confronted by a man in front of his home who pointed a gun at him and said, “I am going to kill you like a dog.” After the assailant’s gun failed, Cordero García and his neighbors wrestled the man off his bicycle and held him until the National Guard arrived to make an arrest. At least four journalists have been murdered this year in Mexico, making it one of the world’s most dangerous countries for media workers.
The FBI has admitted that it tested Pegasus spyware made by the Israeli company NSO Group that’s been used by authoritarian governments to illegally hack the cellphones of dissidents and journalists. Pegasus uses a “zero-click” exploit to complete an almost undetectable takeover of a target’s mobile device, granting unlimited access to messages, emails, phone calls and location data, while allowing control of the phone’s microphone and camera. While the FBI confirmed it tested Pegasus spyware, the agency insisted it had not been used in support of any investigation.
The FBI said Wednesday they are investigating at least six people of interest in relation to a series of bomb threats made against historically Black colleges and universities and places of worship. All of the individuals are minors, and the cases are being investigated as hate crimes. In Florida, a police chief described a phone call in which an unidentified person said bombs would explode and a gunman would attack Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. The caller claimed to be linked to the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division.
In North Carolina, authorities asked more than 6,500 residents of Winston-Salem to remain away from their homes for a second straight night as fire crews battled a blaze at a fertilizer plant that threatened to ignite a massive explosion. Fire officials said the plant had about 600 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate fertilizer stored on site. That’s nearly triple the amount that exploded at a West, Texas, plant in 2013, killing 15 people and damaging 200 homes. This is Winston-Salem Fire Chief Trey Mayo.
Trey Mayo: “Somebody who has spent many decades in the fire service texted me earlier and said this is potentially the largest explosion in U.S. history.”
Fire officials said the fertilizer plant did not have a sprinkler system or alarm in the building where the fire broke out. North Carolina building codes allowed the 80-year-old plant to operate without the safety systems in place because the plant was built before 1953, when sprinklers were first required.