WASHINGTON – The US military flew two B-52H bombers from Louisiana to the Middle East on Thursday, as part of an ongoing effort to deter Iran from any aggressive action, according to a statement from the US Central Command ( CENTCOM).
The bombing mission, which flew over the region but dropped no bombs, comes as the US military believes there is an increased risk of Iranian actions or miscalculations, senior US military official says knowing the area.
The two B-52H Stratofortresses flew from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on an approximately 36 hour mission that took them through Europe, across the northern Red Sea, across Arabia Arabia and the Persian Gulf for north-south transit. The mission included a counterclockwise loop around Qatar, staying closer to the western side of the Persian Gulf and out of Iranian airspace at all times, according to the senior US military official with knowledge of the region. .
Planes from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar flew with the American planes during parts of the flight.
The risk of miscalculation on the part of the Iranians is “higher than normal right now” due to a number of factors, the senior military official said, including the withdrawal of US troops from the region , the transition of power in the United States, with the United States distracted by the COVID pandemic and the anniversary of the American murder of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
“It’s higher than normal right now, it doesn’t mean they’re going to do something. But, you know, we want to make sure that if they were to consider some sort of aggressive act, they would think twice about it before they do, ”the official said.
“Our approach at the moment is that we recognize that there is potential for Iranian miscalculations in terms of how they might behave towards the United States,” the official said.
Iran and Iranian proxies are still planning attacks, the official said. “We’re certainly aware of a number of different things they’re planning here and there. Some of them are closer to execution and more realistic than others. Some are more ambitious. “
The official said the bombing mission was also planned in part because the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group had to leave the area.
“We’re just trying to make sure that if the Iranians think they have an executable plan, they think twice before executing it, because they see that we have a strong posture and a presence that stays in the region to respond. should any provocation occur. ”
The official warned that proxy groups could also act against US forces in the region, including Iraq, and that Iran-aligned groups could act without Iran’s direction or consent.
“It is not only Iran, but some of the proxies that worry us, especially in Iraq and the level of Iranian control over those proxies is certainly questionable,” the official said.
The senior military official said the bombing mission was “to assure our regional partners” and “part of that assurance with them is also to deter Iran”. The mission was coordinated with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, the official said.
“Potential adversaries must understand that no nation on earth is more ready and capable of rapidly deploying additional combat power in the face of aggression,” CENTCOM Commander Gen. Frank McKenzie said in a statement on the mission.
“We are not looking for conflict, but we must remain stationed and determined to respond to any eventuality or in opposition to any aggression,” McKenzie said.
The senior US military official told NBC News that CENTCOM was establishing “an appropriate posture of force of a defensive nature, intended to deter the Iranians from taking provocative measures so that if there are factions within the Iranian government who think this might be a time when they could act against us, they realize that we are still in a strong position in the region and that taking these steps would not be the prudent thing to do. ”
The official said the Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group had stayed in the area longer than expected to continue deterring Iran, and that the ships could be there for the foreseeable future. “We certainly believe that the security situation demands it now and may demand it for some time, but we do not yet know what it will look like,” the official said.
The bombing mission
“And that’s part of what our force presence is supposed to do, is make the Iranians aware of the stakes of what might be at stake if these groups attacked … during this time.” “
The official said the recent murder of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist could also lead Iran to attack the United States in the region.
“I see no indication that the United States is blamed for the assassination of the scientist,” the official said, “although we are not blamed, we are often seen as complicit when such things happen. “
“So I think there is an element of risk towards us and really towards the regional partners. “