The U.S. carried out military strikes in Iraq and Syria targeting an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia blamed for a rocket attack that killed an American contractor, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the strikes send the message that the U.S. will not tolerate actions by Iran that jeopardize American lives.
"Precision defensive strikes" were conducted against five sites of Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement earlier Sunday.
The U.S. blames the militia for a rocket barrage Friday that killed a U.S. defense contractor at a military compound near Kirkuk, in northern Iraq. Officials said as many as 30 rockets were fired in Friday's assault.
Esper said the U.S. hit three of the militia's sites in western Iraq and two in eastern Syria, including weapon depots and the militia's command and control bases.
U.S. Air Force F-15 Strike Eagles carried out the strikes and all the aircraft safely returned to their home base, Esper said. At the ammunition storage facilities that were struck, significant secondary explosions were observed.
Pompeo, Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flew to Palm Beach, Florida, after the operation to brief President Donald Trump.
Esper said they discussed with Trump "other options that are available" to respond to Iran.
"I would note also that we will take additional actions as necessary to ensure that we act in our own self-defense and we deter further bad behavior from militia groups or from Iran," Esper, who was accompanied by Pompeo and Milley, said in a brief statement to reporters in a ballroom at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, where the president is on a more than two-week winter break.
The national security officials did not answer any questions.
Pompeo said the "decisive response" makes clear that the U.S. "will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy."
Trump was at Mar-a-Lago but did not appear with his top national security officials. After Pompeo and Esper spoke, the president traveled to his private golf club in West Palm Beach. The White House did not immediately say why Trump returned to the club after spending nearly six hours there earlier Sunday.
Iraq's Joint Operations Command said in a statement that three U.S. airstrikes on Sunday evening Iraq time hit the headquarters of the Hezbollah Brigades at the Iraq-Syria border, killing four fighters.
Iraq's Hezbollah Brigades, a separate force from the Lebanese group Hezbollah, operate under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Many of them are supported by Iran.
The Popular Mobilization Forces said Sunday that the U.S. strikes killed at least 19 of Kataeb Hezbollah's members.
Kataeb Hezbollah is led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, one of Iraq's most powerful men. He once battled U.S. troops and is now the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces.
In 2009, the State Department linked him to the elite Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, designated a foreign terrorist organization by President Donald Trump earlier this year.
The U.S. maintains some 5,000 troops in Iraq. They are there based on an invitation by the Iraqi government to assist and train in the fight against the Islamic State group.
The militia strike and U.S. counter-strike come as months of political turmoil roil Iraq. About 500 people have died in anti-government protests in recent months, most of them demonstrators killed by Iraqi security forces.
The mass uprisings prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi late last month. Abdul-Mahdi remains for now in a caretaker capacity.
Abdul-Mahdi had made no public comment on Friday's militia attack but condemned the U.S. retaliatory strike on Sunday. He called it a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a "dangerous escalation that threatens the security of Iraq and the region."
In a statement, Abdul-Mahdi said Defense Secretary Mark Esper had called him about a half-hour before the U.S. strikes to tell him of U.S. intentions to hit bases of the militia suspected of being behind Friday's rocket attack. Abdul-Mahdi said in the statement he asked Esper to call off U.S. retaliation plans.
The statement said Iraqi President Barham Salih also received advance notice from a U.S. diplomat, and also asked unsuccessfully for Americans to call off it off.
As a civil rights activist at 25, John Lewis was beaten so badly his skull was fractured and the TV images from an Alabama bridge in the 1960s forced a nation's awakening to racial discrimination. As a congressman today at 79, Lewis is facing a foe like none before: advanced pancreatic cancer.
The veteran Democrat congressman from Georgia has fought many struggles in his lifetime. Yet, he said, "I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now," announcing Sunday in Washington that the cancer was detected earlier this month and confirmed in a diagnosis.
Lewis has had many battles, and this he views as one more dawning. He was arrested at least 40 times in the civil rights era, several more times as a congressman since being elected in 1986 and only recently he has been rallying to help reunite immigrant families separated by the Trump administration.
The youngest and last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, a group once led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis made clear that he has no plans to step aside from power while he undergoes treatment.
He said being elected to Congress "has been the honor of a lifetime" and that he will continue working for his constituents from Capitol Hill.
"I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life," he said.
Added Lewis: "Ï have a fighting chance."
He declined to say where he would receive cancer treatment or what that would entail. But he said he may not always be around the halls of Congress in the coming weeks.
"I may miss a few votes during this period, but with God's grace I will be back on the front lines soon," he said in asking for prayers.
Lewis also said he was "clear-eyed about the prognosis" even as doctors have told him that recent medical advances have made this type of cancer treatable in many cases. He added that "treatment options are no longer as debilitating as they once were."
The American Cancer Society estimates 3% of patients with stage 4 pancreatic cancer are alive five years after being diagnosed.
Sometimes called the "conscience of the Congress," Lewis led hundreds of protesters in the 1965 Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. He was at the head of the march when he was knocked to the ground and beaten by police. The nationally televised images forced the country's attention on the racial inequalities being fought by King and so many others.
Lewis turned to politics in 1981, when he was elected to the Atlanta City Council.
In 2011 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, who had marched with Lewis hand in hand in Selma on the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday attack.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among those who sent her best wishes to Lewis after the announcement of his illness.
"We are all praying for you following this diagnosis. John, know that generations of Americans have you in their thoughts & prayers as you face this fight." She said in a statement. "We are all praying that you are comfortable. We know that you will be well."
Two men were killed and seven others were wounded by gunfire when a group filming a rap music video was "ambushed" near Houston, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.
The Harris County sheriff's office said Saturday morning that 20-year-old Gonzalo Gonzalez and 22-year-old Jonathan Jimenez died at the scene Friday night. The sheriff's office said the seven injured were taken to hospitals and ranged in age from 17 to 23.
The sheriff's office said Saturday that they did not know a motive or have any suspects.
"We don't know if there was a beef going on or what exactly happened," Gonzalez said at a news conference just after the shooting.
"We know it was a rap video that w as being filmed out here but beyond that we don't know who the performers or who was involved in it, just that there was a large group out there," he said.
The sheriff said authorities received a call about a drive-by shooting around 9:30 p.m. Officers responded to what Gonzalez characterized as a residential neighborhood just north of Houston, where a group of males had been making the video in an office parking lot. The shooting scene stretched several blocks, the sheriff said.
"There were other vehicles that were staged there and they were filming some type of music video when, all of a sudden, basically they were ambushed, we believe by individuals in cars and/or foot that fired shots into the parking lot area," Gonzalez said at the news conference.
He said the shooting "unfolded very quickly" and it was unclear how many people opened fire. "A lot of shots were fired," he said.
The sheriff said Friday night that figuring out who was at the scene will be part of the investigation, and asked for witnesses to come forward.
Joe Biden sought Saturday to clarify his assertion that if the Senate subpoenas him to testify in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, he will defy the order. But he did not clear up what he would do.
A day earlier, the Democratic presidential contender told The Des Moines Register he stood by his position that he would defy the Republican-controlled Senate if it ordered him to be a witness in the proceedings.
"Correct," he said when asked if that was still his intent. "And the reason I wouldn't (testify) is because it's all designed to deal with Trump doing what he's done his whole life — trying to take the focus off of him."
In a tweet Saturday, Biden said: "I want to clarify something I said yesterday. In my 40 years in public life, I have always complied with a lawful order and in my eight years as VP, my office — unlike Donald Trump and Mike Pence — cooperated with legitimate congressional oversight requests."
Yet he followed with another tweet suggesting that he would consider any subpoena from the Senate Republicans for the impeachment trial to be illegitimate.
"I am just not going to pretend that there is any legal basis for Republican subpoenas for my testimony in the impeachment trial," he tweeted. "That is the point I was making yesterday and I reiterate: this impeachment is about Trump's conduct, not mine."
It has not been established that any witnesses will testify when the Senate takes up the articles of impeachment passed by the House, accusing Trump of abusing office and obstructing Congress.
Democrats want to hear from certain officials close to Trump who did not testify in the House impeachment inquiry. Trump and some of his allies have threatened in response to seek testimony from Biden, his son Hunter, and the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint about Trump's July phone call with Ukraine's leader set off the impeachment inquiry.
On the call, Trump asked the Ukrainian president to open an investigation into the Bidens while holding up military aid for Ukraine. A Ukrainian gas company had hired Hunter Biden when his father was vice president and the Obama administration's point man on Ukraine. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden.
A small plane en route to a college football playoff game crashed into a post office parking lot in Louisiana shortly after takeoff Saturday, killing five people, including a well-known sports reporter who was the daughter-in-law of one of the team's coaches.
The two-engine Piper Cheyenne crashed in the city of Lafayette about a mile from the regional airport where the flight began, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro said. Investigators from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating, according to Molinaro and an NTSB statement on Twitter.
The plane was an eight-passenger aircraft, said Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit. Six people were on board the plane, five of whom were killed, he said. The sixth, a 37-year-old man, was being treated at an area hospital along with two people who were in the post office.
A person who was either in or near a car on the ground was also "impacted" by the crash and was being treated for injuries, Benoit said. He did not elaborate. A blackened car sat in the post office parking lot, which was carpeted with scattered tree limbs.
Kevin Jackson and other eyewitnesses told KLFY-TV that the plane hit a car as it fell, and that someone could be heard screaming inside the vehicle.
Steven Ensminger Jr., son of the offensive coordinator for the Louisiana State University football team, said his wife, Carley McCord, was on board the flight and died when it crashed. He said the plane was en route to the Peach Bowl playoff game in Atlanta between LSU and Oklahoma.
"I just don't feel like this is real," Ensminger Jr. told the AP in an Instagram message.
Ensminger Jr. said he was unable to go to the game and was at work when the crash happened. He said his father, Steven Ensminger, called him just before the elder Ensminger got to the stadium. The coach had tears in his eyes when he appeared on the field at the start of the game Saturday afternoon, and LSU players embraced him with hugs.
"He's the MVP right now," LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said in an on-air halftime interview. LSU won 63-28.
The Lafayette Fire Department identified the other people who were killed as Ian E. Biggs, 51, the plane's pilot; Robert Vaughn Crisp II, 59; Gretchen D. Vincent, 51; and Michael Walker Vincent, 15. The injured passenger, Stephen Wade Berzas, was in critical condition, said department spokesman Alton Trahan.
The plane went down in a part of the city with a scattering of banks, fast food chains and other businesses. A trail of scorched and burning grass could be seen around the crash site.
Marty Brady, 22, said the lights went out at his apartment a couple of hundred yards (183 meters) or so away from where the plane crashed just as he was making his morning coffee.
Brady said he ran out and saw black smoke and flames from the post office parking lot. He said the plane clipped and knocked down a power line over the gate to his apartment complex.
"If it had been a little lower, it could have been a lot worse," he said.
McCord was a Baton Rouge native and sports reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans and appeared as a sideline reporter for ESPN, according to her website. She previously worked in television in Cleveland, and she was a two-time runner-up in the Miss Louisiana pageant.
"We are devastated by the loss of such an amazing talent and valued member of our WDSU family," said WDSU President and General Manager, Joel Vilmenay. "Carley's passion for sports journalism and her deep knowledge of Louisiana sports, from high school to the professional ranks, made her an exceptional journalist. "
McCord was also part of the game-day entertainment staff for the NFL's New Orleans Saints and the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans, regularly appearing in promotional segments broadcast during games.
"Carley was a valued member of both our New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans family as an in-game host and her infectious personality and knowledge of both teams entertained our fans," the two teams said.
Ensminger Jr. said he and his wife had the same birthday, and he shared a photo of the two celebrating at a restaurant, a dessert with a candle between them. His Instagram account shows photos of the couple and their families at various sporting events and celebrations. He updated the account Saturday to say: "I'll never be the same with out you, Carley! You are, and will forever be my world."
McCord is the second journalist working in the New Orleans area to die in a plane crash this year. On August 16, WVUE news anchor Nancy Parker was doing a story in New Orleans about stunt pilot Franklin Augustus when the plane crashed. Both Parker and Augustus died.
The NTSB announced that Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg and an eight-person investigative team were being sent to the scene of Saturday's crash.
Landsberg will be there as a spokesman due to the high-profile nature of the crash, NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said.
Lafayette is the fourth-largest city in Louisiana with a population of about 130,000, according to the 2018 census. It is located about 135 miles west of New Orleans.