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B-52s conduct first mission of counter-Iran deployment
The B-52H Stratofortress bombers deployed to the Middle East to deter Iran conducted their first mission Sunday, U.S. Air Forces Central Command said Monday.
"This was the first mission of the Bomber Task Force deployed to U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in order to defend American forces and interests in the region," Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) said in a brief statement alongside photos of the bombers taking off.
AFCENT also released images Monday of F-15Cs and F-35As taking part in "deterrence" flights in the region Sunday. The photos showed the F-15s, F-35s and B-52s being refueled by a KC-135 in the air over an undisclosed location in the region.
Neither release elaborated on the flights.
In response to a request for more information, a spokeswoman said the flights include going over the Persian Gulf, also known as the Arabian Gulf.
"The B52's were deployed to U.S. Central Command to defend U.S. Forces and deter any aggression," AFCENT spokeswoman Maj. Holly Brauer said in an email. "They have begun flying deterrence missions in the region, including over the Arabian Gulf."
The B-52s were deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar last week as part of the U.S. response to what the Trump administration described as "troubling and escalatory indications and warnings" for Iran.
F-15s and F-35s were already in the region conducting missions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
As part of the Iran response, the Trump administration also sent the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to the region. The deployment was previously scheduled, but was sped up.
The Pentagon also announced Friday it was sending a Patriot missile battery and the USS Arlington amphibious transport dock to the region.
"It's important that Iran understand that an attack on Americans or its interests will be met with an appropriate response," acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Friday.
Tensions with Iran have skyrocketed in recent weeks as the Trump administration has ratcheted up sanctions pressure on Tehran. Iran also announced it would stop complying with parts of the nuclear deal one year after Trump withdrew from it.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday scrapped a planned stop in Moscow to discuss Iran with European allies in Brussels.
Also Monday, four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates were reported damaged in what the country described as a "sabotage attack." Two of the tankers were Saudi, one was Emirati and one was Norwegian.
Officials have not blamed Iran for the attack. But it came after the United States warned ships Iran or "its proxies" could target maritime traffic in the region.