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Pentagon sends more B-52s to Middle East to deter Iranian attacks on US troops

WASHINGTON – Two US B-52 bombers carried out another show of force mission in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, a week after President Trump warned Iran he would hold him responsible “if an American is killed” in rocket attacks in Iraq that the administration and military officials are blamed on Tehran.

The 36-hour round-trip warplanes mission from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota was the third time in six weeks that Air Force bombers had performed long-range flights at around 60 miles off the Iranian coast, moves military officials have said to deter Iran from attacking US troops in the region.

The United States periodically conducts such rapid demonstration missions in the Middle East and Asia to showcase American air power to allies and adversaries. But tensions rose ahead of the January 3 anniversary of the US drone strike that killed Major General Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the elite Iranian Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iraqi leader of a group supported by Iran. militia – dead that Iranian leaders repeatedly insist they have yet to avenge.

In recent days, US intelligence analysts have said they detected Iranian air defenses, maritime forces and other security units on high alert. But senior Defense Department officials admit they can’t say whether Iran or its Shia proxies in Iraq are preparing to strike US troops or retaliate if Mr. Trump orders a pre-emptive attack on them, an option. whose assistants ruled him out last month, at least for now.

Wednesday’s bombing mission, which included US Air Force F-16 fighters, flew over the central Persian Gulf and was routed well outside Iranian airspace. The US fighter jets remained in the Gulf region for about two hours before returning home, officials said. The Air Force conducted similar B-52 missions on November 21 and December 10. In all three missions, there was no immediate response from Iran.

“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,” said Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of the Central Command of the Pentagon, in a statement on Wednesday.

In a Twitter post Last week, after a meeting with senior officials at the White House, Mr Trump said Iran was behind rocket attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad on December 20. “Some friendly health tips for Iran”, Mr. Trump tweeted. “If an American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Reflect.”

Mr Trump’s message was followed by a statement from Central Command, which called the attacks involving 21 largest 107-millimeter rockets in a decade against US personnel in Iraq. Senior U.S. military officials said on Wednesday that the rocket attacks were carried out by Iranian-backed rogue militias, including Kataib Hezbollah, whose leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was killed in the strike. drone of January 3.

Kataib Hezbollah has denied any involvement in last week’s rocket attacks, which killed at least one Iraqi civilian and damaged the embassy compound.

According to the Pentagon.

U.S. commanders and diplomats say the attacks are aimed at driving U.S. troops out of Iraq, where Trump has ordered the Pentagon to downsize to 2,500 by mid-January.

Tensions were high as the anniversary of General Suleimani’s murder in Iraq approached, where the Trump administration said it was planning attacks on U.S. forces.

Iran responded at the time with missile strikes against bases in Iraq where US troops were located. No one was killed and the immediate crisis subsided, although Iran said it had not fully avenged General Suleimani’s death.

Last month, senior Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed east of Tehran in a daytime strike believed to have been carried out by Israeli operatives. Both US and Israeli officials say Fakhrizadeh was seen as the driving force behind what they described as Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program.

Over the past three weeks, Central Command has dispatched bombers, sent an additional squadron of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, kept aircraft carrier Nimitz in the region and publicly announced for the first time in nearly a decade. that an underwater Tomahawk missile fire was working.

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