Background: The United States is trying to make good on its plans to reduce its global military footprint. At least partial troop withdrawals have taken place in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany, and additional drawdowns are being discussed in Somalia. Between the military drawdown, the economic downturn and political chaos in the U.S., many wonder whether Washington is losing its edge as a global power, especially in military affairs.
What Happened: Over the weekend, U.S. Central Command announced that B-52H bomber aircrews from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota had been sent on a short-notice, long-range mission to the Middle East. CENTCOM said the mission was meant to demonstrate just how easily the U.S. can move troops in and out of theaters, and noted that the bombers were intermittently accompanied by F-15Es, F-16s, KC-10s and KC-135s.
Bottom Line: The mission should be viewed as a demonstration of the U.S. military’s global strength and reach. The KC-10s and KC-135s allowed for in-air refueling, highlighting that bombers could reach targets worldwide without relying on allies in the target theater, and the presence of fighter jets added enhanced threat capabilities. While the message is clear, the intended target is less so. Most likely, it was a signal to Russia or Iran, whose militias in Iraq have been upping their attacks against U.S. targets lately. (So much so that the U.S. has levied additional sanctions on Tehran.) If the U.S. discloses the bombers’ destination, or where they were refueled in-flight, the picture becomes clearer.