B-52s Land in Middle East as CENTCOM Boss Warns Iran

A USAF B-52H Stratofortress takes off as part of a Bomber Task Force deployment from Barksdale AFB, La., on May 7, 2019. Air Force photo by Amn. Jacob B. Wrightsman.

The first B-52s comprising the Bomber Task Force landed in the Middle East on Wednesday, part of a “direct response” to a number of “troubling indicators” from Iran prompting the US to change its military posture, the head of US Central Command said Wednesday.

CENTCOM boss USMC Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, speaking at a Foundation for the Defense of Democracies event in Washington, D.C., said the movement of the bombers and the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is a message to Iran that any attack on US assets would be met with “unrelenting force.”

“Make no mistake, we’re not seeking a fight with the Iranian regime, but we do have a military force that’s designed to be agile, adaptive, and prepared to respond to a variety of contingencies in the Middle East and around the world,” McKenzie said.

Barksdale AFB, La., posted video of two B-52Hs taking off on Tuesday en route to CENTCOM, which previously did not have any bombers in its area of operations.

B-52H Stratofortresses assigned to the 2nd Bomb Wing take off in support of a Bomber Task Force deployment from Barksdale AFB, La., on May 7, 2019. Video by TSgt. Will Bracy/USAF

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, testifying at a Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, said “very, very credible” intelligence came in late last week, and the department and the intelligence community were working on “understanding the sources and to get the teams turning on: What does it mean and how might we respond?” Shanahan did not elaborate on the nature of the threat.

Shanahan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, and McKenzie went through the intelligence on Saturday, and the decision to send the carrier strike group and bombers was made Sunday shortly before White House National Security Advisor John Bolton announced it in a statement.

McKenzie said he wants the B-52 and Strike Group deployments to show the US is still focused on the Middle East, and that Iran should know it’s willing to act.

“If a fight is to be had, we’ll be fully prepared to respond and defend our interests, and it won’t be a fair fight,” he said.