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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The U.S. Air Force is flying overtime.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

U.S. fighter jets have shot down three mystery aircraft in as many days. The unidentified objects were tracked and then shot down after entering North American airspace. It's a lot. So what exactly is going on?

MARTÍNEZ: To bring us up to date, we're joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Greg, they're happening rapidly, it seems like. So what happened? I mean, it's almost hard to keep track.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Yeah, that's right. And so the latest was Sunday. A U.S. fighter jet shot down a small, unmanned flying object over Lake Huron, which is just off the shore of Michigan. And then going back to Saturday, an Air Force plane, working in coordination with Canada, shot down an aircraft over western Canada. Canada's working to recover this. And it's calling it a cylindrical object. And the third one was Friday, when the U.S. shot down an aircraft just off the northeast coast of Alaska. It landed off the coast. It's described as the size of a small car. But weather conditions have prevented the military from reaching it, according to U.S. officials.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and all three came after the U.S. shootdown of China's spy balloon. Are these latest incidents linked to espionage?

MYRE: So they're still investigating. They don't have all the material. But at this point, there's no indication these were spycraft. Now, Air Force General Glen VanHerck, he's the NORAD commander. He gave a briefing on Sunday night. Here's some of what he said.

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GLEN VANHERCK: What we're seeing is very, very small objects. I'm not going to go into detail about shapes or anything like that. It's a very, very slow object in the space, if you will, going at the speed of the wind, essentially.

MYRE: So one of the challenges, he said, is that the fighter jets are streaking past these objects at hundreds of miles an hour. And it's been very hard for pilots to get a good, sustained look. Now, VanHerck and other U.S. officials are stressing a few points here. All these aircraft that were shot down are much smaller than China's spy balloon. None had crew on board. U.S. officials said they didn't pose an imminent threat. But they were shot down out of an abundance of caution.

MARTÍNEZ: So Greg, then, how should we think about this? I mean, a mystery aircraft entering U.S. airspace sounds scary. But is it just that we're just paying more attention to these things since the Chinese spy balloon?

MYRE: Well, A, certainly, it seems to be the latter. Now, the Air Force is saying it has recalibrated its radar systems - or speed gates, as they're called - which were geared to look more for things like incoming missiles. And the U.S. made this adjustment after the encounter with China's spy balloon. Again, here's General VanHerck.

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VANHERCK: So if you had radars on all the time that were looking at anything from zero speed up to, say, a hundred, you would see a lot more information. We have adjusted some of those gates to give us better fidelity on seeing slower objects.

MYRE: And so as we learn more about these objects that were shot down, the U.S. may have to decide whether it wants to track every small, slow-moving object and whether the Air Force should scramble the jets every time there is a mysterious blip on the radar.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. We mentioned that Chinese spy balloon. It was shot down just off the coast of South Carolina. How is that investigation going?

MYRE: So a U.S. official says the balloon's payload, with the valuable technical equipment, is believed to be intact at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in about 50 feet of water. Now, if this can be recovered and analyzed, the U.S. could get a much better understanding of exactly what the Chinese were up to.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thanks a lot.

MYRE: My pleasure.

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MARTÍNEZ: The Turkish government says over a million people are living in temporary shelters a week after a earthquake hit parts of the country and neighboring Syria.

KHALID: The death toll from the powerful 7.8 magnitude quake now stands at more than 33,000. And funerals are continuing all across the region.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Jason Beaubien joins us now from one of those funeral sites in Turkey. Jason, what are you seeing?

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: You know, the number of dead here is so overwhelming that officials have set up a mass grave on a hillside just east of the city of Marash. There are these long lines of fresh mounds on the hill. In any other time, you know, this would be a really spectacular spot where I am right now. There's these snow-capped mountains across the valley. But now it has become this assembly line for burying the dead.

Corpses, they're coming in, in pickup trucks. They're coming in, in ambulances, in vans from the morgues. The police identify the ones that they can. Then there are these 19 white tents at the top of the hill where the bodies are ceremonially washed. Then further down the hill, there are these backhoes that are digging trenches. And as soon as the trenches are open, men, mourners come. They lower the body bags in. Then there's this sort of rotating chorus of sorrow here, of family members crying and imams praying over the graves. And then they move on. And the backhoe cuts another trench.

MARTÍNEZ: Is there a best guess on how many people have been buried where you are?

BEAUBIEN: And we've actually been asking that question here. And no one can give us an exact number at the moment because it keeps changing. But based on the numbers that are written on the graves, it's at least 4,000 just in this site alone.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. That's awful. And this is just one place among many in this area that covers hundreds of miles. What are you seeing where you are that's happening somewhere else?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. You know, Marash, where I am here, it's in the northern part of this massive quake zone. Some of the worst hit places in Turkey are in Hatay in the south. We are seeing funerals and burials happening all over the place, everywhere. And one of the things about this disaster is that it hit when most people were home asleep. So you're getting entire families being killed together. And we go to some of these funerals. And for surviving relatives, it's particularly hard because in an instant, that extended family, which is so important in Turkey, may have been cut in half or even worse.

MARTÍNEZ: And while people are burying their dead, I mean, the reality of this is that the window for finding survivors is closing - what? - in about a week. And yet some people are still being pulled out alive.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. There have been some remarkable recoveries. Even today, rescuers pulled a 40-year-old woman alive out of the debris of a class building in Gaziantep. Over the weekend, dozens of people were saved across, again, this vast earthquake-damaged region in Turkey. But rescuers are saying that it's getting to the point where it's unlikely that very many more people should be expected to be found alive, you know? It's been a week. It's been freezing at night. Rescuers in Syria announced several days ago that they were focusing on recovering bodies now instead of rescue operations. And the chance of finding many more people alive, rescuers here say, is slim.

MARTÍNEZ: And, Jason, one more thing, really quick. People are angry there - right? - because of the recovery efforts.

BEAUBIEN: Some people are angry about the recovery efforts. There's also growing frustration about, potentially, that some of these buildings collapsed because of shoddy construction work. There's been some arrests that happened over the weekend. Mainly, people are dealing with grief. But, yes, there is frustration that's also building in the midst of this disaster.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien in Turkey. Jason, thanks.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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MARTÍNEZ: For the second time in four years, the Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl champions.

KHALID: Last night, in Glendale, Ariz., in a stadium that looks like a grounded spaceship, Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes put on his latest otherworldly performance. Fighting off the pain of a sprained ankle, he led the Chiefs to a second half comeback and a nail-biting 38-35 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is here. Tom, since I know all the sports cliches, I'm going to start with one. It was a tale of two halves.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughter) That's a good one, A. Yeah, first half, the Eagles were the dominant team, they've been all season. Led by their great young quarterback, Jalen Hurts, and a strong defense, they went out to a 10-point lead at halftime. Now, particularly worrying for Kansas City, late in the half, quarterback Patrick Mahomes aggravated that high ankle sprain he suffered earlier in the playoffs. So as Rihanna took the halftime stage high above the field - and kudos to her for performing so well. Obviously, she trusted the wires holding up her platform. But while she was singing, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told the NFL Network he was worrying about that ankle.

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ANDY REID: He goes in at halftime. And I'm going, are you OK? And he goes - and, you know, can you do this? I can do everything. Just leave me alone and let me go play.

GOLDMAN: And he sure did. He led the Chiefs to three second half touchdowns and the drive that resulted in the winning field goal by Kansas City with 8 seconds left. That drive, of course, included Mahomes' gutty 26-yard run up the middle of the field on that painful ankle.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And Mahomes had help from his friends, too.

GOLDMAN: He sure did. He couldn't have done it without the great work by his running backs, his wide receivers, his stellar tight end, Travis Kelce, and especially his offensive line. We love to give those offensive linemen publicity. Those five big guys paid to protect Mahomes, did just that. One of the stories going into the game was Philly's fierce pass rush. And Mahomes noted afterwards how the Chiefs' offensive linemen had heard that story over and over.

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PATRICK MAHOMES: I think those guys got caught up with getting asked every single week what they were going to do against this defensive line. And they took it as a challenge. And they responded. And we told them earlier in the week - I said, if y'all play great, we'll win this football game. And they did.

GOLDMAN: And, A, as great as they were, Mahomes got the hardware. He won the Super Bowl MVP award to go with his second league MVP award that he won last week. And, you know, this is solidifying the belief that Mahomes, only 27 years old, already is among the greats.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts had a great game. Unfortunately, it was on a loss.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, he did. His coach, Nick Sirianni, said Hurts played the best game since the two have been together the last couple of years. Hurts ran for 70 yards and three rushing touchdowns, over 300 yards passing and one passing TD - great leadership, smart decision-making with one big boo-boo in the second quarter. Hurts fumbled. The Chiefs scooped it up and scored a defensive touchdown. But really, both quarterbacks were outstanding. They not only made history as the first two Black quarterbacks to play against each other in a Super Bowl, they made it an exciting game.

MARTÍNEZ: And then with history also being made on a halftime show stage. I mean, this one seems to have lived up to the hype.

GOLDMAN: History. It was confirmed that Rihanna was the first known pregnant halftime performer at a Super Bowl. But yeah, this one was very good. The expectations for Super Bowls are so absurd - the buildup for two weeks, then game day, with hours of pre-game stuff, the high octane mix of commercialism and militarism. And then finally, you got a football game to play. And it often doesn't rise above the hype, but this one did.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.