U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress bombers made a “deliberate appearance” in the Middle East on Tuesday to deter potential attacks against U.S. troops amid intelligence showing “complex attack planning” in Iraq.
A CENTCOM statement provided to American Military News confirmed the deployment of the two bombers from Minot Air Force Base’s 5th Bomb Wing, adding that the deployment “delivers a clear deterrent message to anyone who intends to do harm to Americans or American interests.”
“The United States continues to deploy combat-ready capabilities into the U.S. 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 Gen. Frank McKenzie, Commander, U.S. 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 deployment comes less than a week ahead of the one-year anniversary of the U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3, 2020 that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iraq. U.S. officials have said Iran could strike on the anniversary as a true act of revenge for Soleimani’s killing.
“We’re seeing planning for, particularly in Iraq for complex attacks that require Iranian assistance in order to be pulled off,” a senior military official told Fox News. “It’s unclear to us, whether it’s contingency planning, or whether it’s a plan that is advancing because approval has been given and they’re just trying to get all the pieces in place and execute.”
The official said the potential “complex attacks” could consist of short-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, “quadcopters” or other “unmanned systems.”
The official added that the “most worrisome” potential attacks are in Iraq where the flow of advanced weaponry has increased, and “the threat streams are very real.”
A top Iranian general, Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi, said last week that “harsh revenge will be taken” for Soleimani’s killing, adding that the missile attack on U.S. troops at Ain al-Assad was just a “slap,” according to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.
On Dec. 20, a rocket attack struck the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, damaging buildings on the compound, although no U.S. personnel or troops were injured. A drawdown of U.S. diplomats at the Embassy was ordered earlier this month amid increasing attacks and the risk of a retaliation attack for the Soleimani killing.
Last week, the U.S. Navy sent its guided-missile submarine USS Georgia through the Persian Gulf, marking the first time a U.S. guided-missile submarine had traveled through the Strait of Hormuz in eight years.