By Carla Babb
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.