Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is shown in a close-up photograph from the side with bright white lights in the distance.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Feb. 19, 2021.


Alex Brandon/AP/File photo

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The Biden administration took its first military action on Thursday, launching airstrikes on Iran-backed militias in Syria. Pentagon officials said the bombing targeted facilities used by militia groups including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada in eastern Syria, near border crossing with Iraq, and were a "proportionate military response" to a rocket attack in mid-February that killed a civilian contractor and wounded a US service member and other coalition troops in Erbil, Iraq. The overnight strikes may have killed more than 20 people.

“I’m confident in the target that we went after, we know what we hit,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters.

The airstrikes pull the Biden administration into the long-simmering conflicts of the Middle East after spending the first weeks in the White House emphasizing its plans to focus a US foreign policy agenda toward Asia, and on China. The scope of the US response additionally seems intended to avoid a broader conflict with Iran, after President Biden announced a willingness to reengage in talks with the Islamic Republic over the nuclear deal.

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A new report from Amnesty International suggests that Eritrean soldiers systematically killed hundreds of people in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. The massacre took place in November last year and echoes a story published by the Associated Press last week which found that soldiers gunned down civilians and lined up, shot and beat “hundreds, if not thousands” of men in one of the region’s deadliest conflicts. Amnesty called the massacre a crime against humanity. 

And, in a second kidnapping in a little over a week, police in Nigeria said armed gunmen abducted over 300 schoolgirls in the increasingly lawless northern region of the country. Officials say a search-and-rescue operation is underway looking for the girls taken from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in the town of Jangebe.

From The World

Lloyd's of London examines its ties to the trans-Atlantic slave trade

British insurance giant Lloyd’s of London, which originated in 1688, wants to hire an archivist to examine its collection of 3,000 insurance relics — including paperwork, furnishings, swords and silverware — to suss out their connections to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The archivist’s mission will be “to ascertain what artifacts and objects link to African and Caribbean history (specifically slavery and abolition),” the job posting says.

France launches citizens' collective to tackle widespread vaccine hesitancy

According to recent polls, only 41% of France's population says they are “sure” they want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

To boost the public’s confidence, the French government is now doing something different: Putting power in the hands of everyday citizens to help oversee the country’s vaccine rollout.

Bright spot

The German language has been enriched with 1,200 new words over the past year describing life for Germans — and for the rest of us, really — during the coronavirus pandemic. From “overzoomed” (stress resulting from video calls), coronafrisur ("corona hairstyle") to coronaFußgruß ("corona foot greeting") and, most recently, impfneid ("vaccine envy"). Host Marco Werman spoke to Christine Möhrs of the Leibniz Institute 🎧 who is tracking how the newly coined vocabulary is being used.

A screengrab of words starting with the letter C and in three columns.

Courtesy of Leibniz Institute

In case you missed it

Listen: France develops new way to deal with vaccine skepticism

A crowd of people are shown walking with Paris' iconic Arc de Triomphe in the background.

People wearing wearing face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus make their way at the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, Feb. 24, 2021.


Michel Euler/AP

France has one of the highest rates of vaccine skepticism in the world. In order to address this, the government created a citizen advisory committee to help set vaccination policy. And, a mixed-use mini-city on the outskirts of Vienna showcases what’s possible for green building, mobility and sustainability. Also, fans planning to watch the gilded Olympic torch pass by on its route through Japan are being asked to avoid cheering and instead only applaud the runners.

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