Two B-52H "Stratofortress" bombers flew a 30-hour round-trip mission from the United States to the Persian Gulf on Wednesday in what appears to be a show of military readiness aimed at Iran.
The mission to the Middle East was the second of its kind this month. The long-range warplanes took off from Minot, North Dakota, on Tuesday, and were refuelled in flight.
U.S. Central Command said in a statement that the "deliberate" appearance in the Middle East was to "underscore the U.S. military's commitment to regional security and demonstrate a unique ability to rapidly deploy overwhelming combat power on short notice."
Its statement reads, "The two-ship deployment also delivers a clear deterrent message to anyone who intends to do harm to Americans or American interests ... The United States continues to work closely with allies and partner to advance regional security and stability. This mission is the third bomber deployment into CENTCOM's area of operation in the last 45 days."
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of the U.S. Central Command, said in a statement, "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.
"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 long-distance flights to the Middle East come as the anniversary of the assassination of Iran's top military leader, Qassem Soleimani, is approaching.
It also comes after the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was attacked by at least eight Katyusha rockets on Dec. 20. The Iraqi military said an "outlaw group" fired eight rockets. No known Iran-backed groups have claimed responsibility.
The U.S. embassy condemned the attack and urged all Iraqi political and governmental leaders to take steps to prevent such attacks and to hold accountable those responsible.
"The U.S. Embassy confirms rockets targeting the International Zone resulted in the engagement of Embassy defensive systems. There was some minor damage on the Embassy compound but no injuries or casualties," it said in a statement.
The U.S. Central Command said in a statement that the Baghdad rocket attack was "almost certainly conducted by an Iranian-backed Rogue Militia Group."
The attack also prompted a warning from President Donald Trump, who wrote on Twitter, "Our embassy in Baghdad got hit Sunday by several rockets. Three rockets failed to launch. Guess where they were from: IRAN. Now we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq. Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over."
Iran has denied involvement in the recent attacks.
Earlier on Dec. 10, a pair of U.S. Air Force B-52Hs flew from Louisiana over the Persian Gulf in a mission to assure allies and partners in the region, and deter aggression. "Potential adversaries should understand that no nation on earth is more ready and capable of rapidly deploying additional combat power in the face of any aggression," Gen. McKenzie said at the time.
A pair of B-52Hs in late November flew a similar mission "to deter aggression and reassure U.S. partners and allies" from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.