(TMU) — The United States and Iran are currently engaged in a tit-for-tat conflict in which attacks conducted every couple of days injure and kill each other’s nationals, a situation that is not so unusual for the two countries.
However, the U.S. significantly escalated tensions when, on January 2, Iran’s most powerful and well respected military leader, General Qassem Soleimani, was assassinated in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport.
On Thursday night, World War III began trending on various social media platforms but it became quickly apparent that many Americans, whether cheering on the murder of Soleimani or not, were largely ignorant to the recent developments leading up to this brazen act of war.
On December 31, Iraqis stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, torching its outer fence in protest against deadly air strikes conducted by the U.S. military which targeted facilities controlled by Kataib Hezbollah in both Iraq and Syria.
— Mohammed Khaluq (@MohammedKhaluq) December 31, 2019
This is the picture to close out the decade pic.twitter.com/RhwSC160R4
— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) December 31, 2019
The December 29 strikes carried out by the U.S., which killed 25 people and wounded more than 50, were in response to the death of an American contractor as a result of a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base on December 27. The U.S. claimed that more than 30 rockets were fired in the Friday strike that also injured four U.S. service members and two members of the Iraqi Security Forces, but has offered no proof that Iran was responsible.
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) December 29, 2019
In December, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeatedly blamed Iranian-backed forces for attacks on bases in Iraq. Pompeo warned Iran that any attacks by the country or their proxies would be “answered with a decisive U.S. response” if American citizens or allies were harmed. And U.S. officials have been warning of possible attacks by Iran on U.S. forces since early December.
Meanwhile, Iran, along with both China and Russia, began their first-ever joint naval drills, which took place in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman, December 27 through December 31. China announced the drills on Thursday.
Of the drills, Jonathan Eyal, associate director at the Royal United Services Institute said:
“This is a carefully calculated exercise in which all three participants are winners: Iran gets to claim it is a regional power, Russia demonstrates its role as the key actor in the Middle East, and China can show it is a global naval power. The strategic message is that these are the countries shaping events in the Middle East.”
Tensions between Iran and the United States have been increasing ever since U.S. President Donald Trump formally reneged on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—also known as the Iran nuclear deal—in May of 2018, in what was a scandal in itself after Iran was repeatedly certifiably compliant with the terms of the JCPOA.
Wendy Sherman, a former Obama-era undersecretary for political affairs, blames Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA for destroying the “uneasy balance” that has existed with Iran, eventually resulting in the December 31 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Sherman explained:
“It is President Donald Trump’s failed policy toward Iran that has brought us to this combustible moment.”
While recently tensions have included drone strikes, exploding tankers, and other equally visible and damaging actions, a July 20 article in the Atlantic highlighted something even more significant that American citizens tend to ignore:
“This summer, tankers are exploding, disappearing, or getting seized near the Gulf; drones are getting destroyed in tit-for-tat attacks; and a war of words and tweets is erupting between Donald Trump and Iran’s supreme leader. That’s where all the drama is, but in fact most of America’s punitive actions against Iran are taking place in a world not physical but financial. Sanctions are the key tool the United States uses against what it sees as the Islamic Republic’s provocative behavior—especially for the past three presidential administrations running, and never more so than in this one.”
The use and threat of sanctions on Iran by the U.S government is nothing new and sanctions are often a precursor to war. And through its draconian sanctions regime, the U.S. has already been at war with Iran, killing and harming Iranians.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 2, 2018
Following the assassination of Soleimani, Pompeo told reporters on Friday that “the world is a much safer place today.” However, at virtually the same time, the U.S. state department issued a security alert urging U.S. citizens to “depart Iraq immediately.”
#Iraq: Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, we urge U.S. citizens to depart Iraq immediately. Due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the U.S. Embassy compound, all consular operations are suspended. U.S. citizens should not approach the Embassy. pic.twitter.com/rdRce3Qr4a
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) January 3, 2020
Major U.S. cities are also taking steps to increase security in case of retaliatory attacks by Iran or its allies.
Have spoken with Commissioner Shea + Dep Commissioner Miller about immediate steps NYPD will take to protect key NYC locations from any attempt by Iran or its terrorist allies to retaliate against America. We will have to be vigilant against this threat for a long time to come.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) January 3, 2020
It remains to be seen where things go from here, but it is extremely likely that Iranian officials are currently turning to Russia and China to determine its next move.
Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida
A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.
In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.
“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.
Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.
Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.
Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.
Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.
However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.
Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son
A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.
The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.
The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.
“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.
“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.
The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.
The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.
“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.
The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.
Video Shows Taliban Taking Joyride in Captured US Blackhawk Helicopter
The rapid fall of Kabul to the Taliban has resulted in a number of surreal sights – from footage of the Islamist group’s fighters exercising at a presidential gym to clips of combatants having a great time on bumper cars at the local fun park.
However, a new video of Taliban members seemingly testing their skills in the cockpit of a commandeered UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter shows the chilling extent to which U.S. wares have fallen into the hands of a group it spent trillions of dollars, and exhaustive resources, to stamp out.
In the new video, shared on Twitter, the front-line utility helicopter can be seen taxiing on the ground at Kandahar Airport in southeastern Afghanistan, moving along the tarmac. It is unclear who exactly was sitting in the cockpit, and the Black Hawk cannot be seen taking off or flying.
It is unlikely that the Taliban have any combatants who are sufficiently trained to fly a UH-60 Black Hawk.
The helicopter, which carries a $6 million price tag, is just a small part of the massive haul that fell into the militant group’s hands after the country’s central government seemingly evaporated on Aug. 14 amid the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition troops.
Some 200,000 firearms, 20,000 Humvees and hundreds of aircraft financed by Washington for the now-defunct Afghan Army are believed to be in the possession of the Taliban.
The firearms include M24 sniper rifles, M18 assault weapons, anti-tank missiles, automatic grenade launchers, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.
Taliban fighters in the elite Badri 313 Brigade have been seen in propaganda images showing off in uniforms and wielding weaponry meant for the special forces units of the Afghan Army.
The U.S. is known to have purchased 42,000 light tactical vehicles, 9,000 medium tactical vehicles and over 22,000 Humvees between 2003 and 2016.
The White House remains unclear on how much weaponry has fallen into Taliban hands, with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan admitting last week that the U.S. lacks a “clear picture of just how much missing $83 billion of military inventory” the group has.