U.S. deploys B-52 bombers to Middle East, officially exits from Open Skies Treaty

U.S and MIDDLE EAST – After days of media reports circulating that outgoing US President Donald Trump had asked in a meeting with his top national security advisers for options to attack Iran, the U.S. Army Central Command (CENTCOM) announced it had carried out a short-notice mission with B-52H bombers which took off from an air base in North Dakota to somewhere in the Middle East.

U.S. pro-Trump News Channel Fox News described the first B-52 mission to the Middle East in several months as a “message to Tehran”. Iran on Sunday vowed “to defeat any Israeli attempt to harm its role in Syria,” Reuters reports. Israel has regularly carried out air strikes against Iranian (para-)military presence in Syria, the latest one was this week. Whether the Iranian threats have to do only with the Israeli airstrikes or also with the US B52 missions is unknown.

The long-range B-52 bomber is considered one of the United States’ strategic aircraft, has a massive weapon load and can fly some 14 thousand kilometers without refueling. CENTCOM said in a statement on Saturday that the aim of sending the bombers is “to deter aggression and reassure U.S. partners and allies. CENTCOM is committed to preserving and protecting the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce throughout the region.”

The B52 mission coincides with the announcement of further withdrawals of American troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and with the official U.S. exit from the Open Skies Treaty, announced six months ago by President Trump.

The Open Skies Treaty was signed in 1992 by 34 countries including Russia,  the U.S. and several European countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The Treaty aimed to strengthen confidence in Europe as it stipulates that Treaty members are allowed to collect information about armed forces movement and military activities through unarmed reconnaissance flights over the Treaty’s member states’ territory.

Through the reconnaissance flights European countries could fill the gap of of not having comprehensive (military) satellite capabilities and share gained information from the reconnaissance flights. President Trump cited Russian non-adherence to the Treaty as reason for pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty. Several European Treaty countries denounced the US withdrawal from the Treaty.