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A drone facility allegedly used by Iran-backed militias on the Iraq-Syria border, moments before an airstrike. Screenshot of video via U.S. Central Command.

The U.S. launched airstrikes Sunday night against three facilities on the Iraq-Syria border, which the Pentagon says Iran-backed militias have been using to carry out drone attacks on U.S. personnel.

Why it matters: The Washington Post reported last month that U.S. officials were growing increasingly alarmed by the use of small, low-flying drones — rather than traditional rocket fire — to covertly strike U.S. targets in Iraq.

The Biden administration seriously considered taking military action in April after an explosive-laden drone targeted a CIA hangar in Irbil, according to the Post, but ultimately declined.

  • A recent spate of attacks appears to have changed the calculus on what officials believe is currently the biggest threat to the military mission in Iraq.

Zoom in: Last night's strike marks the second time since taking office that President Biden has approved a "defensive" operation against Iran-backed militias in the region, and it comes just two weeks after the House voted to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq — a move Biden supports.

In a statement disclosing the airstrikes, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby cited Biden's "Article II authority to protect U.S. personnel in Iraq" as justification for the attack, rather than the AUMF. But not everyone's satisfied.

  • "I’m just as worried about the expansion of Article II authority interpretation as I am about the expansion of existing AUMF interpretation,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told Politico.
  • Murphy, an influential voice on foreign policy in the Democratic Party, warned that the fighting between U.S. forces and Iranian proxies is beginning to look like "low-scale war," and he said Biden should consider asking Congress for a new authorization.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, applauded the strike but called it "overdue" and an example of the "continued need" for the 2002 AUMF.

  • Inhofe added that while he currently opposes repealing the 2002 AUMF, Congress should consider a "comprehensive replacement" to address the "ongoing threat" that Iran-backed militias pose to U.S. troops.

The Iraqi government, meanwhile, called the airstrike a "blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty," condemning the idea that its country should be an "arena for settling accounts."

Go deeper

Blinken says U.S. doesn't know who was killed in Kabul drone strike

Facing scrutiny from a Senate panel Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted that he doesn't know if the U.S. mistakenly targeted an aid worker in a drone strike in Kabul that reportedly killed 10 Afghan civilians.

Driving the news: The U.S. is still investigating the strike, and maintains it "was taken to prevent an imminent threat to the airport," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement Tuesday. "We do work very hard to avoid civilian casualties, and we would be deeply saddened by any loss of innocent life.”

Updated 47 mins ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

1 hour ago - World

Hong Kong holds first "patriots only" elections

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a news conference last Monday. Photo: Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua via Getty Images

Hong Kong's elections to choose the city's Election Committee members opened to a select group of voters on Sunday, under a new "patriots only" system imposed by China's government.

Why it matters: All candidates running to be members of the electoral college have been "vetted" by Beijing, per Reuters. They will go on to choose the Asian financial hub's next leader, approved by China's government, and some of its legislature.