The United States Air Force has deployed F-22 stealth fighters to Qatar for the first time adding to a buildup of US forces in the Gulf amid tensions with Iran.
U.S. Air Forces Central Command announced Friday that the jets have arrived in Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar for the first time to “defend American forces and interests.” The command posted photos alongside the announcement on social media. Nearly a dozen F-22s are now in the region, the Associated Press reported.
The Aviationist had been the first to report that the Raptors were heading to the Middle East after plane spotters noticed them arrive and then depart Moron Air Base in Spain earlier in the week. It is unclear how many F-22s are now in Qatar. The Aviationist reported that nine jets, identified as belonging to the Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, had arrived at Moron between June 25 and 26, 2019, but that only six had departed. Another three remained at Moron, at least initially, after suffering technical issues.
The photos that the Air Force released of the jets arriving in Qatar only show five together at once, though this does not necessarily mean the sixth aircraft wasn’t present, as well.
The return of F-22s to the Middle East certainly offers U.S. military commanders in the region more options no matter how the situation continues to evolve in the near term.
Tensions spiked last week when Iran shot down a US drone over sensitive Gulf waters following a series of tanker attacks that Washington blamed on Tehran, which has denied involvement.
See Details: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shoots down U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk ‘spy’ drone in Hormozgan Province
Raptors have in the past been stationed at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The fifth-generation fighter had been part of the air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria since the fight began in 2014; they returned home last fall, and were replaced by F-15C Eagles earlier this year.
In May, the Pentagon sent B-52 Stratofortress bombers to the region as a response to unspecified threats from Iran at the time. The bombers had flown a series of patrols over the Persian Gulf alongside F-15Cs, as well as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Air Force’s variant of the fifth-generation fighter deployed to the theater in April, and conducted its first combat strike mission in Iraq on April 30.