US Bombers, Fighters Begin Patrols over Persian Gulf amid Reported Iranian Threats

A U.S. B-52H Stratofortress aircraft assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron refuels from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia on May 12, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Keifer Bowes)
A U.S. B-52H Stratofortress aircraft assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron refuels from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia on May 12, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Keifer Bowes)

The B-52 Stratofortress bombers that deployed to the Middle East last week to counter unspecified threats from Iran have begun patrols over the Persian Gulf, Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) said Monday.

"The B-52s were deployed to U.S. Central Command to defend U.S. forces and deter any aggression. They have begun flying deterrence missions in the region, including over the Arabian Gulf," AFCENT spokeswoman Maj. Holly Brauer said in an email.

CNN reported that F-15C Eagles and F-35A Joint Strike Fighters that were already deployed to the Middle East for operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have joined the B-52s for "visible patrols" over the Persian Gulf.

A defense official confirmed on background that the aircraft have begun "show of presence" flights over the gulf.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson on Monday touted the B-52's rapid deployment to the region after the Trump administration announced May 5 it was sending the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and a bomber task force.

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Wilson told audiences at a Meridian International Center event that it took "a little over 50 hours [from] when we got the call to send forces forward to when [the B-52s] were on the ramp in the Middle East."

NBC News reported last week that the U.S. had received credible intelligence that an Iranian official had approved attacks against U.S. military personnel operating in the region, including possible missile attacks from small Iranian ships.

Four bombers from the 20th Bomb Squadron, out of Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, arrived at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, on May 8.

Meanwhile, F-15Cs already deployed to the Middle East have been flying alongside the Air Force's premier stealth fighter. AFCENT posted photos Monday showing the F-35 and F-15 over an "undisclosed location" in Southwest Asia. F-15s took over the F-22 Raptor's mission earlier this year, while the F-35 fifth-generation fighter deployed to the theater in April; the American F-35A conducted its first combat strike mission in Iraq on April 30.

On Friday, the U.S. added even more firepower to the region.

On the heels of his nomination as permanent secretary of defense, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan approved sending the amphibious transport dock Arlington and a Patriot missile battery to the region for extra deterrence.

"The Department of Defense continues to closely monitor the activities of the Iranian regime, their military and proxies," the Pentagon said. "Due to operational security, we will not discuss timelines or location of forces."

Officials added that the U.S. "does not seek conflict with Iran, but we are postured and ready to defend U.S. forces and interests in the region."

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A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress aircraft taxis for takeoff at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, May 12, 2019.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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