The U.S. military reportedly deployed two B-52H bombers to the Middle East on Thursday as part of an effort to deter Iran from potential attacks in the region, a senior U.S. military official told Voice of America (VOA).
“The flight was not about any offensive action; it was about deterring Iran from acting out,” the senior U.S. military official told the U.S. government-funded VOA on condition of anonymity on December 10.
The U.S. military has recently observed “troubling indicators in Iraq” that Iran or Iranian-backed proxy groups may be planning attacks, the official said.
The alleged “indicators,” combined with an ongoing U.S. troop withdrawal in Iraq and the upcoming anniversary of a U.S. strike that killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, “create an ‘above average’ risk for miscalculation by Iran,” the official added.
The U.S. defense department announced in mid-November that it would reduce its number of troops in Iraq to 2,500 by pulling 500 soldiers from the country by January 15, 2021.
The two B-52H bombers deployed to the Middle East on Thursday “departed from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and did not drop bombs during their ‘short-notice’ mission,” according to VOA.
Two B-52 Stratofortresses performed a short-notice, non-stop mission from @BarksdaleAFB to the @CENTCOM theater during a #BTF mission Dec. 10, 2020, designed to underscore the U.S. military's commitment to its regional partners and highlight readiness. pic.twitter.com/GpahPrjjUe
— US AFCENT (@USAFCENT) December 11, 2020
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, confirmed the deployment in a statement on Thursday.
“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.
Washington accused Iranian-backed proxy group Kataib Hezbollah of launching a rocket attack against a military base in northeastern Iraq’s Kirkuk region in December 2019, killing a U.S. contractor. The U.S. military responded by launching a series of retaliatory airstrikes on Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria, killing Kataib Hezbollah’s founder, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and killing Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s terrorist military wing, the IRGC Quds Force, who was in Iraq meeting with al-Muhandis. The Iranian Quds Force conducts extraterritorial military and clandestine operations.
Iran responded to Soleimani’s assassination with a missile attack on Iraq’s Ain al-Asad airbase on January 7. The base houses a large number of U.S. and international troops. No U.S. troops were killed during the assault on Ain al-Asad, but over 100 soldiers were subsequently diagnosed with brain injuries following the attack.
The U.S. military carried out another round of retaliatory airstrikes in March, destroying five Kataib Hezbollah weapons depots in Iraq.