The U.S. Air Force is sending six B-52 Stratofortress bombers to Diego Garcia, a military hub that acts as a strategic location for operations in both the Middle East and the Pacific.
New satellite imagery, exclusively obtained from Planet Labs, shows two B-52s at the U.S. airbase on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, where they are out of the reach of Iranian missiles.
View B-52 satellite imagery here: link
These are the first of six of the bombers that the U.S. military is deploying to the remote base amid heightened tensions with Iran and now in the wake of unprecedented Iranian missile strikes targeting U.S. forces in Iraq.
Pentagon to begin sending 6 B-52s to Diego Garcia: US official. B-52s will be available for operations against Iran if ordered, the official said. But the deployment does not signal that operations have been ordered. #Iran #Solemani
— Barbara Starr (@barbarastarrcnn) January 6, 2020
The imagery in question is dated Jan. 8, 2019 at 11:09 AM. The B-52 bombers reportedly were spotted departing from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to Diego Garcia, which is located 2,300 miles south of Iran’s southernmost tip.
JAN 06: USAF B-52Hs MYTEE51 & 52 departed Barksdale AFB for Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean due to #Iran tensions. pic.twitter.com/2PgkMMnAXw
— Aircraft Spots (@AircraftSpots) January 7, 2020
In an interview, retired Gen. Hawk Carlisle — former head of Air Combat Command and head of the National Defense Industrial Association — said there would be several advantages to stationing B-52s at Diego Garcia. It would free up space at bases inside the Middle East to station other aircraft, such as fighters or ISR aircraft, that don’t have the B-52’s 8,800-mile range or might have to quickly respond to an emergency.
This decision now seems especially prudent given Iran’s act of firing at least 22 short-range ballistic missiles at two bases U.S. forces occupy in Iraq overnight in retaliation for the U.S. drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, last week.
This is the second time in the last year that the American military has deployed B-52 bomber aircraft to the region due to rising tensions with Iran.
The Diego Garcia base is part of the British-held territory of the Chagos Islands, which legally falls under the rule of Mauritius. Mauritius is an East African island country in the Indian Ocean located about 700 miles from the coast of Madagascar. The Chagos base was constructed after the UK ousted more than 2,000 island natives from their homes and leased the grounds to the US.
The Americans have been using the base for more than 50 years.
The United States maintains several military bases in a number of Middle Eastern countries in close proximity to Iran, but it chose to deploy its bombers to Diego Garcia because it is out of reach of Iran’s longest-range missiles, according to the Pentagon.
The American military footprint in the Middle East and Central Asia includes approximately 14,000 troops in Afghanistan; 13,000 soldiers in Kuwait; 13,000 more in Qatar; 7,000 in Bahrain; 6,000 in Iraq; 5,000 in the United Arab Emirates; 3,000 in Saudi Arabia; 3,000 in Jordan; and 2,500 in Turkey.