Security

US, allies committed to long-term regional peace

By Sultan al-Barei in Riyadh

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Video grab shows US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress aircrews getting ready to conduct a short-notice, long-range mission into the Middle East on November 21st.[US CENTCOM]

In the face of ongoing and in some cases escalating tensions in the Middle East, the US remains committed to long term peace, stability and co-operation in the region, observers from across the region told Al-Mashareq.

Demonstrating this continuing commitment to regional security, US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress aircrews conducted a short-notice, long-range mission into the Middle East on November 21st to deter aggression and reassure US partners and allies.

"Bomber Task Force missions highlight the robust and varied US Air Force capabilities that can be made rapidly available in the CENTCOM area of responsibility," said Lt. Gen. Greg Guillot, 9th Air Force commander.

"The ability to quickly move forces into, out of and around the theater to seize, retain and exploit the initiative is key to deterring potential aggression," he said.

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A B-52H Stratofortress on the flightline on November 20th, at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. [US Air Force]

On November 12th, a unit of more than 10 US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons and hundreds of airmen deployed to al-Dhafra air base in the UAE.

Arriving in the Gulf nation from Spangdahlem air base in Germany, the unit from the 480th Fighter Squadron, 52nd Fighter Wing, followed hard on the heels of a squadron of F-35A Lightning II fighters from Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

That squadron left in late October after a five-month deployment to al-Dhafra.

This movement of forces is part of what the US military calls a "dynamic force employment" and demonstrates the military's ability to move fluidly and flexibly into and around the region.

Air Force officials said the incoming unit would be supporting combat operations and training with regional allies in order to enhance these forces' ability to deter aggression and promote security and stability in the region.

It will integrate with international coalition and partner forces and conduct combat missions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve -- the international operation against the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

'Deeper, broader' ties with UAE

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled to the UAE on Saturday (November 21st) to meet with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The two discussed "security co-operation and countering Iran's malign influence in the region", among other issues, the State Department said.

Ahead of the meeting, Pompeo noted that the relationship between the US and UAE has "grown deeper and broader".

This is underscored by the October launch of a foundational strategic dialogue and new security and economic partnerships tied to the Abraham Accords.

"Our partnership advances key priorities including combating malign activity, resolving regional problems, and combating extremism," the State Department said in a Friday statement.

The UAE also supports countering violent extremism through the Sawab and Hedayah Centres, as well as co-operating with the US on combating money laundering and terrorist financing.

Confronting extremist threat

When considering the impact of the US military in the Middle East, "the question that should be asked is: What would the situation be like if these forces were not in the region?" said Lebanese military expert Jamil Abu Hamdan.

The answer is very clear, he told Al-Mashareq: "We would have witnessed more wars, conflicts and a stronger and broader influence of terrorist groups and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] and its proxy groups".

US forces stationed in the region are able to move quickly in response to any threat or attack, he said, noting that the strong ties they maintain with their regional allies also increase their effectiveness.

This ability to redeploy fast sets US forces apart, Abu Hamdan said.

In Syria, he said, US forces were instrumental in handing ISIS a military defeat, leading the international coalition and supporting local forces with air power.

They are now hunting down ISIS remnants and dismantling the group's sleeper cells in joint operations with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), he said.

US forces also are backing Iraqi forces in their pursuit of ISIS remnants, he said.

Curbing malign actors

In the Mediterranean and Gulf, the US does not use "excessive force", but rather tries "to ward off the spectre of destructive wars and their consequences on the region by resorting to military and political encirclement", said Mona Mohammed, a Yemeni journalist living in Cairo.

In remarks to the virtual Arab-US Policymakers Conference on November 19th, US CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said the US has no plans to attack Iran even though Washington is accelerating its sanctions campaign against Tehran.

"It is very important to note there is no military component to the maximum pressure campaign -- there is none," he said. "It is strictly a diplomatic and an economic approach."

"Today I believe Iran has been largely deterred because the regime now understands we possess both the capability and the will to respond," McKenzie said, adding, "I believe the Iranian regime recognises if they get into an escalatory spiral with the US, it will not end well for them."

"US military deployment in the Gulf falls within the context of its strategic partnership with regional countries," said al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies researcher Sami Gheit.

These partnerships form a bulwark against threats from al-Qaeda, ISIS and other groups, and have helped to maintain regional security and reduce the threat of terror attacks, he told Al-Mashareq.

The US military presence in the Gulf "is essential for security and stability, not only for the countries of the region, but the entire world given the strategic position of the region" which serves as a global economic corridor, he said.

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