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 intended to deter Iran from attacking U.S. or allied targets in the United States. Middle East.
Senior US Army officer said the flight of two Air Force B-52 bombers was in response to signals that Iran may be planning attacks on US Allied targets in neighboring Iraq or elsewhere in the region in the coming days, even as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office.
The officer was not authorized to publicly discuss internal assessments based on sensitive information and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The B-52 bomber mission, flown back and forth 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 order further military reprisals for the murder of the United States on January 3. Senior Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani.
Iran’s initial response, five days after the deadly US drone attack, was a ballistic missile attack on a military base in Iraq that left around 100 US soldiers with brain injuries.
A rocket attack last week on the US embassy complex in Baghdad by Iranian-backed Shiite armed groups added to the tension. No one was killed, but Trump subsequently tweeted that Iran was warned.
“Some friendly health advice to Iran: If an American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think about it, ”Trump wrote on December 23.
In announcing Wednesday’s bomber flight, the head of the US Central Command said it was a defensive move.
“The United States continues to deploy combat-ready capabilities within the area of responsibility of the United States Central Command to deter any potential adversaries and make it clear that we are ready and able to respond to any aggression directed against the Americans or our interests,” General Frank said. McKenzie, the commander of the central command. “We are not looking for conflict, but no one should underestimate our ability to defend our forces or to act decisively in response to any attack.”
He did not mention Iran by name.
Before the announcement, the senior US military officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said US intelligence had detected recent signs of “fairly substantial threats” from Iran, and this included planning for possible rocket attacks against US interests in Iraq in connection with the first anniversary of Soleimani’s murder.
The United States is in the process of reducing its troop presence in Iraq from 3,000 to about 2,500. Trump has ordered the reduction to be completed by January 15; officials say it will likely be reached as early as next week.
The United States has also detected signs that Iran may be considering or planning “more complex” and broader attacks against US targets or interests in the Middle East, the senior US military officer said. , adding that this represented the most disturbing signs since time. immediately after Soleimani’s murder.
The officer cited indications that advanced weapons have recently flowed from Iran into Iraq and that Shiite militia leaders in Iraq may have met with officers of the Iranian Quds force, previously commanded by Soleimani.
The US officer said Iran could have an eye on economic goals, noting the September 2019 missile and drone attack on Saudi oil processing facilities. Iran has denied any involvement but has been blamed by Washington for the attack.
In recent weeks, the US military has taken a series of measures designed to deter Iran, while publicly stressing that it is not considering and has not been ordered to take unprovoked action. against Iran.
Last week, a US Navy guided missile submarine made an unusual transit of the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.
Earlier in December, a pair of B-52 bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana flew what the military calls a “presence” mission over the Gulf – a show of US force and a signal to American engagement in the region, but not an attack mission. That flight was repeated this week, with two B-52s flying non-stop from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and returning home Wednesday after flying over the west Gulf Coast.
Tensions with Iran escalated with the November murder of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an Iranian scientist appointed by the West as the leader of the Islamic Republic’s dissolved military nuclear program. Iran blamed Israel for the murder, but US officials fear any Iranian retaliation could strike US interests.