Pentagon sends B-52 bombers to the Middle East after U.S. drones attacked al-Qaeda-linked "explosives experts" in Somalia

US military forces are drawing down to 2,500 in Iraq and Afghanistan before January 20th.

The U.S. military flew a pair of B-52 bombers to the Middle East Thursday from Barksdale AFB in Louisiana the second deterrence mission against Iran in recent weeks and comes on the same day U.S. drones attacked al-Qaeda-linked 'explosives experts' in Somalia.

“We have seen some indications of increased attack planning by Iranian-linked forces inside Iraq” said one U.S. military official who declined to be identified to discuss the sensitive nature of the information.

“Presidential transitions are normally a time when our adversaries try to test us,” the official added.

U.S. military forces are drawing down to 2,500 in Iraq and Afghanistan before January 20th. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad has already withdrawn non-essential personnel in recent months and a “few dozen” more in recent days as the one-year anniversary of the American drone strike killing Iran’s most powerful general Qasem Soleimani on January 3rd approaches.

The U.S. Air Force bombers from the 2nd Bomb Wing launched from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and flew ‘nonstop’ to the Middle East and back with refueling multiple times in the air.

"The ability to fly strategic bombers halfway across the world in a nonstop
mission, and to rapidly integrate them with multiple regional partners
demonstrates our close working relationships and our shared commitment to
regional security and stability," said the head of U.S. Central Command
Gen. Frank McKenzie in a statement.

Without mentioning Iran by name, McKenzie added: "Potential adversaries should understand that no nation on earth is more ready and capable of rapidly deploying additional combat power in the face of any aggression."

"We do not seek conflict," Gen. McKenzie said, "but we must remain postured and
committed to respond to any contingency.”

At the same time the American bombers flew to the Middle East, U.S. drones were killing al-Qaeda linked fighters in Somalia.

The U.S. Africa Command who announced the strikes in a statement, did not say how many militants were killed. 

President Trump ordered all roughly 700 U.S. troops — mostly Special Operations forces — out of Somalia next month.  The Pentagon announced the move Friday saying many of the Americans troops will be moved to neighboring countries, like Kenya. 

The top U.S. commander in Africa said last week the U.S. military would not be leaving East Africa. 

“We will continue to apply pressure to the al-Shabaab network. They continue to undermine Somali security, and need to be contained and degraded,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of U.S. Africa Command.

There have been 50 American drone strikes in Somalia this year against the Shabab and a few against an ISIS-affiliate. Last year, there was a record setting 63 drone strikes in the country. 

The military says an initial battle damage assessment shows the drone strike killed terrorists who make explosives for al-Shabaab, including suicide car-bombs.

“These devices are used frequently to target innocent civilians. Although initial assessment of impact is ongoing, it is assessed no civilians were injured or killed,” said Africa Command in a statement. 

The U.S. military says the al-Qaeda linked terrorist group al-Shabab, long considered one of the most dangerous affiliate of the terrorist group has carried out  45 car-bomb attacks in the capital Mogadishu in the past two years killing over 400 people.

“This strike should demonstrate to any enemy that we stand by our partners and will vigorously defend both ourselves and our partners during this repositioning and future operations,” said Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, Joint Task Force - Quartz commander. “We will continue to maintain strong force protection and strike those who seek to harm us or our partners.”

“Al-Shabaab remains a dangerous franchise of al-Qaeda,” said Townsend. “We continue to monitor the threat and support our partners through training and military and diplomatic engagement. This mission illustrates our continuing commitment to eradicating this threat and supporting our Somali partners in the region. We're repositioning, but we will maintain the ability to strike this enemy.”

By Lucas Tomlinson, he is a Pentagon correspondent for Fox News Channel.

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