The US Air Force has sent a squadron of A-10 Thunderbolt II attack planes to the Middle East to counter Iran-backed forces in the region, it was reported on Friday.
The close air support jets have been modified to triple their payloads, Defense News reported.
“They're really here as a message to both assure our partners … but also as … a true capability that can work against some of the threats that we face with respect to Iran,” Lt Gen Alexus Grynkewich, who leads Air Forces Central Command, told the defence industry website.
Centcom commander Gen Michael Kurilla notified Congress of the deployment last month, saying he needed more air power in the region.
After decades in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the Pentagon is trying to shift its attention to Asia to counter China's military rise.
But Centcom still has about 900 troops in Syria and the US military plays a leading role in the anti-ISIS coalition based in Iraq.
“You've got a fair amount of ISIS activity, including some senior leaders who want to reconstitute, and we're just trying to keep the pressure on them to keep them from doing that,” Lt Gen Grynkewich said.
Iran-backed forces also operate across Syria and have attacked US troops in the north-east, including a drone strike last month that killed a US contractor.
On Friday, Centcom announced the capture of an ISIS operative, Salih Dahmash, by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. He had allegedly helped smuggle people and weapons between Iraq and north-east Syria.
Lt Gen Grynkewich pointed to Iran's growing military ties with Moscow as a growing issue in Syria, where Russian forces intervened to support President Bashar Al Assad.
“There's a growing confluence between Russia and Iran, and I would argue with the Syrian regime as well, and that is manifesting in Syria as a challenge to our defeat-ISIS campaign and really just overall regional stability,” he said.
Also known as Warthogs, A-10s are a formidable battlefield asset that have been used in several conflicts, including the Gulf War, Afghanistan, the Iraq War and more.
They are beloved by successive generations of US ground troops for their ability to strafe enemy forces with devastating effect, thanks to a 30mm Gatling gun that delivers depleted uranium bullets at a rate of 3,900 rounds per minute, or 65 rounds per second.
The A-10 has been in service since the 1970s but the Pentagon is beginning to retire the planes, arguing they are outdated.
However, the jets have stalwart backers in Congress who oppose the A-10 being removed from the Air Force's inventory.