WASHINGTON DC, USA: The United States flew strategic bombers over the Gulf on Wednesday for the second time this month, in what Washington says is a show of force meant to deter Iran from attacking American or allied targets in the Middle East.
One senior US military officer said the flight by two Air Force B-52 bombers was in response to signals that Iran may be planning attacks against US-allied targets in neighbouring Iraq or elsewhere in the region in the coming days, even as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office.
The B-52 bomber mission, flown round trip from an Air Force base in North Dakota, reflects growing concern in Washington, in the final weeks of President Donald Trump’s administration, that Iran will order further military retaliation for the US killing last January 3 of top Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani.
Iran’s initial response, five days after the deadly US drone strike, was a ballistic missile attack on a military base in Iraq that caused brain concussion injuries to about 100 American soldiers.
Adding to the tension was a rocket attack last week on the US Embassy compound in Baghdad by Iranian-supported Shia armed groups. No one was killed, but Trump tweeted afterwards that Iran was on notice.
“Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over,” Trump wrote on December 23.
In announcing Wednesday’s bomber flight, the head of US Central Command said it was a defensive move.
“The United States continues to deploy combat-ready capabilities into the US Central Command area of responsibility to deter any potential adversary, and make clear that we are ready and able to respond to any aggression directed at Americans or our interests,” said General Frank McKenzie, the commander of Central Command. “We do not seek conflict, but no one should underestimate our ability to defend our forces or to act decisively in response to any attack.”
The bombers were sent from the US. The flight comes amid ongoing tensions with Iran and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, as well as concerns that Iran may seek to retaliate against US interests to mark the first anniversary of the drone strike that killed Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful figure at the time.
“The United States continues to deploy combat-ready capabilities into the US Central Command area of responsibility to deter any potential adversary and make clear that we are ready and able to respond to any aggression directed at Americans or our interests,” General Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, said in a statement.
Wednesday’s flight constitutes the third bomber deployment in the Middle East in the last 45 days.