Two more B-52s, Marine expeditionary unit head to Middle East as tensions rise with Iran


May 10 (UPI) — The Defense Department has dispatched two more B-52s and a Marine expeditionary unit to the Middle East amid growing tensions with Iran.

The USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group was deployed this week in response to what Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told a Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee Wednesday was “very, very credible” intelligence that Iran was preparing to attack U.S. forces or interests in the region.

Tensions have further increased after Iran announced this week plans to withdraw from parts of the 2015 nuclear deal this week, one year after the U.S. left the agreement.

The two B-52s were sent to U.S. Central Command in Qatar from Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. Two had already been sent to CENTCOM from Barksdale’s 20th Bomb Squadron, with support from two KC-10s, from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

The Stratofortresses touched down Thursday evening local time, Air Force Magazine reported.

Cent Comm posted on Twitter the “Bomber Task Force is deployed here to defend American forces and interests in the region.”

The USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike force includes the guided missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf and destroyers from Destroyer Squadron 2. The group left Naval Station Norfolk on April 1. The USS John Stennis aircraft carrier and its associated strike group has already been in the Persian Gulf since March.

The Lincoln strike group left the Mediterranean and transited the Suez Canal on Thursday, officially entering U.S. 5th Fleet and U.S. Central Command.

Also this week, the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship Kearsarge and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit transited the Strait of Hormuz.

The Strait of Hormuz is a key waterway that feeds into the Persian Gulf, separating Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is a major transportation route for oil tankers and military hardware.

“U.S. Central Command requested the additional forces to protect U.S. forces and interests in the region and to deter any aggression,” Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a CENTCOM spokesman, said Tuesday in reference to the bomber task force and aircraft carrier group, but not the Kearsarge and its Marines.

Urban said the possible attacks from Iran include “threats on land and in the maritime,” adding “we are not going to be able to provide detailed information on specific threats at this time.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday the United States does not want to go to war with Iran but will retaliate if the country attacks American citizens or interests.

“The regime in Tehran should understand that any attacks by them or their proxies of any identity against U.S. interests or citizens will be answered with a swift and decisive U.S. response,” he said in a statement.

President Donald Trump told reporters Thursday that his administration had information Iran was “threatening” the United States.

“We have information that you don’t want to know about,” Trump said. But he added that “we don’t want to have to do anything.”

NBC News reported that the specific threats include possible missile attacks by small Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf; attacks in Iraq by Iranian-trained Shiite militia and attacks against U.S. ships by the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

“Let me be perfectly clear as I reinforce this point: The long-term, enduring, most significant threat to stability in the CENTCOM AOR is Iran and the Iranian regime’s malign, hegemonistic ambitions across the theater and, indeed, globally,” CENTCOM commander Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie said at a Foundation for Defense of Democracies event in Washington on Wednesday.

But Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht, told NBC News on Thursday his nation has not approved allowing its its proxies to attack U.S. forces in the Middle East, accusing U.S. officials of employing “fake intelligence.”

Shanahan told lawmakers that U.S. officials received the intelligence one week ago Friday and decided last weekend to deploy the additional forces as a message to Iran that the U.S. would respond to any attack with force.


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