The B-52H is the US Air Force’s long-range, large-payload multi-role bomber, its principal warplane for strategic nuclear and conventional weapons.
So what brought this super-strategic bomber on a direct flight from the US to a war game in Jordan that focused on counterterrorism, chiefly against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant?
Half of the 10,000 troops taking part in Exercise Eager Lion 2015, launched in Jordan on May 5 – and the largest in the series – were American. The others were put up by Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Lebanon and Iraq. They joined participants from the US, Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Belgium, Poland, Australia and Pakistan.
A veritable Tower of Babel, in which more American personnel participated than the entire 3,000-strong US force deployed in Iraq to train local troops, conduct special operations and lead air strikes against the common enemy, ISIS.
US Maj. Gen. Rock Mattson of the Central Command said that, although the exercise focused on counterterrorism, that term had been “stretched to encompass every dimension of military combat, short of nuclear warfare.”
He mentioned a simulated bombing raid on a desert target by a US plane flying directly from the US to Jordan, but did not disclose what ordnance would be used.
A double warning directed at Iran and Bashar Assad
Still, a B-52H seemed a bit over the top.
Even without nuclear ordnance, the participation of this super-bomber, capable of carrying nuclear weapons and bunker-buster bombs, in its first military operation in the region since the US invasion of Iraq twelve years ago, was remarkable.
The US administration could hardly be planning to use this mighty bomber to swat ISIS terrorists, when US F-16, F-15 and Hornet FA-18 warplanes, already to hand in the Middle East and the Gulf, were quite capable of handling the task.
Therefore, the B-52 must have had a different mission.
DEBKA Weekly sources see its arrival in Jordan as the carrier of two special messages:
1. A warning to Iran against any more shilly-shallying over the nuclear deal and a notice to be ready to sign a comprehensive accord with the six world powers by the June 30 deadline.
Of course, the warplane also looms large enough to heighten Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s suspicions that the Obama administration is playing a double game. (See a separate article on this.)
2. Exercise Eager Lion is taking place under the nose of Syrian President Bashar Assad and hinges on US-Jordanian interventions in the Syrian war. The presence of the B-52 so close to his borders is a reminder that the United States is capable of bombing Damascus and his regime to extinction if it so chooses.