US sends more B-52 bombers to Middle East in last days of Trump administration

Fifth Bomber Task Force mission into Middle East in past 62 days

FILE - In this May 21, 2019 photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, a U.S. B-52H Stratofortress, prepares to fly over Southwest Asia.  Two American bomber aircraft have flown over a swath of the Middle East, sending what U.S. officials say is a message of deterrence to Iran. The flight of the two massive B-52H Stratofortress bombers over the region on Thursday was the second such mission in less than a month. It was designed to underscore America’s continuing commitment to the Middle East even as President Donald Trump's administration withdraws thousands of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.  (Senior Airman Keifer Bowes/U.S. Air Force via AP)

The US Central Command on Sunday announced the completion of another B-52 bomber patrol in the Middle East, the second such mission in 17 days.

The mission was completed on Sunday as a measure of the country's commitment to regional security, US Central Command said.

“US Air Force B-52H ‘Stratofortress’ air crews successfully completed a presence patrol in the Middle East,” the command said.

The head of Centcom, Gen Frank McKenzie, said the mission showed US preparedness in the region.

"The training opportunity and continued integration with regional partners improves readiness and delivers a clear and consistent message in the operational environment to both friends and potential adversaries, alike,” Gen McKenzie said.

He said that the measures were part of the US's defensive position in the region.

The fifth Bomber Task Force mission into the Middle East in the past 62 days came just three days before President Donald Trump leaves office.

Unlike previous statements, this one did not directly mention Iran.

Nevertheless, Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif criticised the US mission.

"If your B-52H 'Presence Patrols' are meant to intimidate or warn Iran, you should have spent those billions on your taxpayers' health," Mr Zarif wrote.

On Friday, the US Department of Defence announced the inclusion of Israel in Centcom alongside regional states, instead of the US European Command.

The change in Israel’s membership follows the Abraham Accord, the Pentagon said.

“The easing of tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbours subsequent to the Abraham Accords has provided a strategic opportunity for the United States to align key partners against shared threats in the Middle East,” it said.

The missions are part of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran in the past four years.

In the past three months, the US has increased its sanctions on Iran and its military air presence in the Gulf region.

Senior US officials have maintained that the goal is deterrence and not conflict.

“We’re not looking to escalate ourselves. We're not looking for war with Iran, I really want to emphasise that,” Gen McKenzie said of the B-52 missions last month.

US president-elect Joe Biden has not stated a position on the missions.

His nominee for the Pentagon, retired four-star general Lloyd Austin, will face questions from the Senate in his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

Mr Austin brings years of experience from the Middle East as the commander of Centcom between 2013 and 2016, and the Commanding General US Forces in Iraq between 2010 and 2011.

He oversaw the US withdrawal from the country under the Obama administration.