WASHINGTON – In yet another display of military might, two US bombers took off from Louisiana and flew over part of the Middle East on Thursday, sending what US officials said was a direct message of deterrence to Iran.
The flight of the two massive B-52H Stratofortress bombers over the region, the second such mission in less than a month, was designed to underscore America’s continued commitment to the Middle East as it was. that President Donald Trump’s administration withdraw thousands of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. .
Officials said the two bombers took off from Barksdale Air Force Base on Wednesday and conducted the flight until Thursday. Officially dubbed the Stratofortress and unofficially known as the Big Ugly Fat Fellow, the B-52 gained lasting fame in Vietnam as an air terror.
Long-range heavy bombers, capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons, are a formidable sight and fly less frequently in the Middle East than smaller fighter jets, such as American fighters. Opponents often complain about the flights of bombers in their region, seeing them as a provocative show of force.
“The ability to fly strategic bombers halfway around the world on a non-stop mission and quickly integrate them with multiple regional partners demonstrates our close working relationship and our shared commitment to security and regional stability, ”Gen. Frank McKenzie, leading US commander for the Middle East, said in a statement.
B-52 bomber pilots fly over New Orleans medical centers on Friday May 1 to celebrate Louisiana’s essential workers in the coronavirus pandemic.
Troop cuts associated with the imminent departure of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group from the Gulf have fueled Allied fears that the United States is abandoning the region. These concerns are compounded by fears that Iran may attack the United States or its allies in retaliation for the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
Iran blamed the death on Israel, which was suspected in previous assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.
U.S. officials are also concerned about a possible Iranian retaliatory strike on the first anniversary of the U.S. airstrike that killed senior Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and senior Iraqi militia officials near Baghdad airport in early January.
Iranian-backed militias regularly launch rockets near facilities in Iraq where US and Iraqi troops are based, and officials worry about a larger and deadlier attack.
“We are not looking for conflict,” McKenzie said, “but we must remain stationary and determined to respond to any eventuality or oppose any aggression.”
A senior military official, who spoke to a small group of reporters on condition of anonymity to provide details on the mission, said the administration believed the risk of an Iranian attack on US or allied interests in the area was a little higher than normal. now, and the Pentagon wants to make Tehran think twice before doing anything. The presidential transition in the United States after Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in November adds to the concerns. The official said Iran or other adversaries often believed the United States might be weaker or slower to respond during a political transition, which U.S. officials categorically deny.
Bomber deployments and short-term flights to the Middle East and Europe have been used in the past to send messages to Iran, a few times over the past two years.
The two Louisiana bombers were to fly a mission of about 36 hours, across the Atlantic Ocean and Europe, then cross the Arabian Peninsula and descend the Persian Gulf, making a wide loop near Qatar and remaining at a distance of Iranian coastline security before. go home, the military official said. The flight was coordinated with U.S. allies in the region, and planes from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar flew with the bombers as they passed through the airspace, the official said.
US bombers from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota carried out a similar mission in late November.
The USS Nimitz and no less than three other warships in its strike group were due to return home by the end of the year, but they took place in the area and no new departure schedule was given. Officials, however, have made it clear that the return of the ships has not been decided and that additional time in the Gulf region is unlimited.
The Pentagon announced last month that the United States would reduce the level of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January, saying the move fulfilled Trump’s commitment to bring back forces from long American wars. As part of the accelerated withdrawal, the United States will reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan from over 4,500 to 2,500 and in Iraq from around 3,000 to 2,500.
Par LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press