F-22s Deploy to Qatar for the First Time Amid Iran Tensions

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor arrives at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 27, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Nichelle Anderson)
A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor arrives at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, June 27, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Nichelle Anderson)

The U.S. Air Force has deployed its F-22 Raptor stealth fighter to the Middle East for increased presence amid ongoing tensions with Iran.

U.S. Air Forces Central Command announced Friday that the jets have arrived in Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar for the first time to "defend American forces and interests." The command posted photos alongside the announcement on social media. Nearly a dozen F-22s are now in the region, the Associated Press reported.

Raptors have in the past been stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The fifth-generation fighter had been part of the air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria since the fight began in 2014; they returned home last fall, and were replaced by F-15C Eagles earlier this year.

In May, the Pentagon sent B-52 Stratofortress bombers to the region as a response to unspecified threats from Iran at the time. The bombers had flown a series of patrols over the Persian Gulf alongside F-15Cs, as well as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Air Force's variant of the fifth-generation fighter deployed to the theater in April, and conducted its first combat strike mission in Iraq on April 30.

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The Trump administration announced May 5 it was sending the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and a bomber task force to the Middle East. A week later, the U.S. added even more firepower, sending the amphibious transport dock Arlington and a Patriot missile battery to the region for extra deterrence.

Then F-15E Strike Eagles deployed to Al Dhafra in June to increase aerial presence, according to Air Force Magazine.

When two commercial oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman this month, the Trump administration blamed Iran. On June 19, Iran shot down a Navy RQ-4 Global Hawk worth more than $100 million, saying the drone had violated its airspace.

Iranian leaders said they had exercised restraint by not shooting down a P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft flying in the region. U.S. Central Command officials said neither the RQ-4 nor P-8 entered Iranian airspace that day, but added that U.S. aircraft routinely operate in the region.

The Air Force's top officer this week said intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights will continue despite Iran's actions.

"Yes, we're continuing to fly," Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said during a breakfast hosted by the Mitchell Institute in Washington, D.C. Wednesday. "We continue to fly where we need to, when we need to be there and as we do in all scenarios."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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