The U.S. military is adding B-52 bombers to the forces being sent to the Middle East to counter Iranian threats to U.S. forces on the ground and at sea, the military said on May 7.
Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said that the bomber task force would consist of B-52 bombers—long-range warplanes that are capable of carrying 70,000 pounds of bombs.
Four B-52s would be deployed, though that number could change, U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
The announcement comes two days after White House national security adviser John Bolton said that the United States was deploying a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East.
Bolton said the intention was “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
“The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces,” he said.
Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan, requested additional forces following “recent and clear indications” that Iranian and proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack U.S. forces in the region, Urban said, according to Reuters.
‘Recent and Clear’ Threats From Iran
“U.S. Central Command continues to track a number of credible threat streams emanating from the regime in Iran throughout the CENTCOM area of responsibility,” Urban said in a statement.
He said the credibility of those threats was based on sources and methods through which the information was obtained, something the U.S. military wasn’t able to discuss.
One U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that there were indications that Iran appeared to be moving short-range ballistic missiles on boats in the Middle East.
The military has said the threat to U.S. forces was on land and at sea, but declined to provide further details.
The military also confirmed that the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group had already been scheduled to be deployed to the Persian Gulf region in the Middle East, but that its movement was “expedited” due to heightened tension with Iran.
According to USA Today, the Abraham Lincoln has a wing of warplanes and 3,000 sailors aboard and is accompanied by the USS Leyte Gulf, a guided-missile cruiser, and four destroyers: the USS Bainbridge, Gonzalez, Mason, and Nitze.
The United States has regularly maintained a bomber presence in the region, and B-1 bombers were there as recently as last month. The B-52 is a long-range, nuclear-capable bomber.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told media on May 6 that “it is absolutely the case that we’ve seen escalatory action from the Iranians,” but he also said he couldn’t be more specific.
“I don’t want to talk about what underlays it, but make no mistake. We have good reason to want to communicate clearly about how the Iranians should understand how we will respond to actions that they may take,” he said.
On May 7, Pompeo canceled a long-planned visit with Germany and instead made an unannounced trip to Baghdad, and met with Iraqi leaders.
Pompeo said the purpose of the meeting also was to let Iraqi officials know more about “the increased threat stream that we had seen” from Iran, so they could effectively protect U.S. forces.
President Donald Trump has been increasing pressure on Iran’s leaders, especially since he quit the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and gradually reimposed sanctions on the country in an effort to force the Islamic regime to change a plethora of activities the administration finds unacceptable.
The administration demands that Iran halts not only its nuclear technology development, which the Obama administration’s nuclear deal attempted to delay, but also its ballistic missile program, support for terrorists and militias in the region, and other destabilizing activities.
In April, Trump announced he would designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization—the first time the United States has marked a branch of a foreign country’s military as such.
Trump also announced in April that the government won’t renew waivers from the sanctions for countries importing Iranian oil in an effort to completely shut down Iranian oil exports, which are a lifeline of the regime.
Iran says its missile program is only defensive, but has repeatedly threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if the United States tries to throttle Iranian oil exports. The strait is a major choke point between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman through which about a fifth of the world’s oil shipments passes.
In November 2018, an IRGC commander threatened that U.S. bases in Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, and U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf were within range of Iranian missiles.
In July 2018, Saudi state oil company Aramco stated that two of its tankers had been attacked by Yemen-based Houthi militia, who are backed by Iran and suppressed by the Saudi military.
Pompeo made clear that the United States will hold “Iranian leadership directly accountable” for “attacks on American interests” by Iranian proxies, be it the Houthis, a Shia militia group, or the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Reuters, and Epoch Times staff member Petr Svab, contributed to this report.