US Sends Bombers to Middle East as Signal to Iran
(Source: Voice of America News; issued Dec 10, 2020)
Boeing F-15 fighters of the Royal Saudi Air Force escorted two US Air Force B-52H bombers as they crossed through Saudi airspace on their way to the Gulf, during a non-stop mission intended to send a warning message to Iran. (Saudi MoD photo)
The U.S. military dispatched two B-52H bombers from the United States to the Middle East on Thursday as part of an ongoing effort to deter Iran from potential attacks amid increased risk in the region, according to a senior U.S. military official.

“The flight was not about any offensive action; it was about deterring Iran from acting out,” the senior U.S. military official told VOA on condition of anonymity, adding that the military had seen “troubling indicators in Iraq” recently that Iran or Iranian-backed proxy forces might be planning attacks.

Those indicators, coupled with the ongoing reduction of U.S. troop numbers in Iraq and the upcoming anniversary of the U.S. strike that killed Iranian elite Quds force commander Qassem Soleimani, create an “above average” risk for miscalculation by Iran, the senior U.S. military official said.

The two B-52H bombers departed from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and did not drop bombs during their “short-notice” mission.

Rather, the mission to the region was designed to both deter aggression and reassure allies, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East.

Demonstration of security commitment

"The ability to fly strategic bombers halfway across the world in a nonstop mission and to rapidly integrate them with multiple regional partners demonstrates our close working relationships and our shared commitment to regional security and stability," CENTCOM chief General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie said in the statement.

Last month, the Pentagon announced it would withdraw 500 American troops from Iraq before next year’s U.S. presidential inauguration.

Tensions have remained high between the U.S. and Iran over the past year.

Last December, the U.S. military said the Iranian-backed proxy group Kataib Hezbollah had launched a rocket attack against a base in Kirkuk, killing a U.S. contractor. The U.S. responded with a series of retaliatory strikes, culminating in January with the killing of Soleimani, who oversaw activities of various militias in Iraq, as well as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Kataib Hezbollah's founder.

That same month, Iran responded with a missile attack on Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq, which houses U.S. and international troops. No U.S. troops were killed or faced immediate bodily injury during the assault, but more than 100 troops sustained concussions and traumatic brain injuries.

Subsequent U.S. retaliatory strikes in March destroyed five Kataib Hezbollah weapons depots in Iraq.

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U.S. Bombers Operate In CENTCOM
(Source: US Central Command; issued Dec. 10, 2020)

SOUTHWEST ASIA --- A pair of U.S. Air Force B-52H "Stratofortresses" assigned to the Barksdale Air Force Base-headquartered 2nd Bomb Wing operated in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility with other U.S. Air Force and regional partner aircraft in the second mission in as many months.

The short-notice, non-stop mission was designed to underscore the U.S. military’s commitment to its regional partners, while also validating the ability to rapidly deploy combat power anywhere in the world, said the senior commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East.

"The ability to fly strategic bombers halfway across the world in a non-stop mission, and to rapidly integrate them with multiple regional partners demonstrates our close working relationships and our shared commitment to regional security and stability," said U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM) commander, Gen. Frank McKenzie.

While assuring allies and partners, the mission was also designed to deter aggression.

"Potential adversaries should understand that no nation on earth is more ready and capable of rapidly deploying additional combat power in the face of any aggression," said McKenzie.

"Our ability to work together as partners on a mission like this heightens our collective readiness to respond to any crisis or contingency."

The U.S. Air Force routinely flies a variety of aircraft and units throughout the Middle East, which is one way that CENTCOM promotes regional security. Temporary long-range bomber deployments into the region can be traced back to at least 2015.

Aircrews use transponders and operate in conformity with international law, including with due regard for the safety of navigation of aircraft during every flight, and coordinate with relevant nations.

"We do not seek conflict," McKenzie said, "but we must remain postured and committed to respond to any contingency or in opposition to any aggression."

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