- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 27, 2021

An American B-52 bomber completed a round-trip mission from the U.S. to the Persian Gulf and back on Wednesday, military officials said, the first such flight since President Biden took office Jan. 20 and one designed to deliver a clear warning to Iran.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) officials said the Air Force B-52H “Stratofortress” took off from Louisiana’s Barksdale Air Force Base and was joined by Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force planes during its flight. The B-52H can reach altitudes of 50,000 feet and has an unrefueled combat range in excess of 8,800 miles, making it fully capable of long-distance missions.

“This long-range, short-duration defensive mission was intended to demonstrate the U.S. military’s ability to deploy airpower anywhere in the world to deter potential aggression and showcase the U.S. commitment to regional security,” CENTCOM said in a statement. “The United States does not seek conflict, but continues to be postured and committed to respond to any contingency around the world.”

The U.S. launched two similar flights earlier this month, but Wednesday’s mission is noteworthy because it is the first such direct military warning to Iran under Mr. Biden‘s leadership. Mr. Biden has indicated he intends to extend a diplomatic olive branch to Iran and may seek to rejoin an international nuclear deal with Tehran, offering a clear break with the hard-line policies of the Trump administration.

At the same, Pentagon officials made clear this week that they’re taking deliberate steps to prepare for conflict with Iran.

On Tuesday, officials said they’re eyeing three military sites in Saudi Arabia as potential staging areas. CENTCOM officials said they have already conducted test runs at the Yanbu port, including the unloading and shipping of cargo from the facility. The military also is looking at King Faisal Air Base in Tabuk and King Fahd Air Base in Taif.

The examination of those sites has been ongoing for about a year, officials said.

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