The U.S. flew two B-52H bombers from Louisiana to the Middle East in an effort to deter Iran amid ongoing tensions, U.S. Central Command said in a statement Thursday.
The two Air Force “Stratofortresses” flew nonstop from Barksdale Air Force Base, across Europe and then the Persian Gulf on a short-notice mission.
A senior U.S. military official told NBC News that aircraft from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar flew with the U.S. planes during portions of the flight, which took roughly 36 hours.
The statement from U.S. Central Command did not mention Iran by name, though Gen. Frank McKenzie said the goal of the mission was to 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,” said McKenzie, who is head of Central Command. “We do not seek conflict, but we must remain postured and committed to respond to any contingency or in opposition to any aggression.”
The show of force comes as the Pentagon is tracking the potential for an Iranian response to the Nov. 27 killing of Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Some Iranian officials allege Israel and the U.S. were behind his death.
U.S. officials are also worried Tehran could launch a strike around the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-ordered airstrike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad’s airport on Jan. 3.
The United States last week announced that it will temporarily withdraw some staff from its embassy in Baghdad.
Adding to fears is the Trump administration’s hurried drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the planned departure of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf. Officials now worry that Iran may try to take advantage of the diminished U.S. military presence in the region.
The Nimitz was in the Persian Gulf in September, the first time in 10 months that a U.S. aircraft carrier was operating there.
The vessel left to conduct an exercise series with the Indian Navy and was thought to be heading home but returned to the Gulf region on Nov. 25. The Pentagon said at the time the goal was to provide additional security during troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan and that there were no specific threats that triggered the return.
It is unclear how long the Nimitz will remain in the region.