Two US B-52H Stratofortress strategic bombers capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons have flown from their base Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to the Middle East in a 36-hour-long mission designed to flex muscle in the vicinity of Iran's borders. The bombers flew over Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, but stayed at the safe distance from the airspace of the Islamic Republic.
According to anonymous US officials cited by the AP, the prolonged flight across the Middle East was a "direct message of deterrence to Iran". US top commander for the Middle East operations, General Frank McKenzie explained the flight by the need to boost cooperation with regional allies but added that it was also designed to demonstrate US readiness to oppose any aggression.
"The ability to fly strategic bombers halfway across the world in a non-stop mission and to rapidly integrate them with multiple regional partners demonstrates our close working relationships and our shared commitment to regional security and stability [...] We do not seek conflict, but we must remain postured and committed to respond to any contingency or in opposition to any aggression", McKenzie said.
Washington considers Iran to be one of the main destabilising actors in the region, while Tehran insists that the US is responsible for a great deal of instability in the Middle East. American aviation flights and the presence of the US military fleet in the Persian Gulf have long sparked criticism from Tehran. The Islamic Republic believes that regional powers should maintain local security without the aid of the US and has repeatedly demanded Washington to remove its military presence in the region.
The US, in fact, has already recently reduced the number of troops it had deployed in Iraq and is planning to pull out the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group from regional waters, fuelling concerns among its allies, the AP reported. The B-52s' flight might reportedly have been a way of reassuring allies amid fears of Iran's retaliation for the killing of its nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh or the upcoming one-year anniversary of the US murdering IRGC General Qasem Soleimani.