July 1 (UPI) -- F-22 Raptor stealth fighter planes were deployed to Qatar for the first time, Defense Department officials said, as tensions between Iran and the United States heightened.
Between five and 12 of the advanced tactical planes arrived at Al Udeid Air Base, from which the United States runs its Middle East air operations, a U.S. Central Command statement said on Friday. It also houses about 10,000 U.S. troops.The planes arrived on Thursday from Moron Air Base in Spain, a week after a U.S. drone was shot down near the Strait of Hormuz by Iran. The incident nearly led to a decision for air strikes on Iranian targets. The United States also blamed Iran for mine attacks against commercial tankers in the Gulf of Oman in June.
A U.S. troop surge of about 2,500 troops in the region began in May, and the Pentagon has not ruled out additional increases in personnel. New sanctions were places on Iran, and the United States is reportedly seeking international partners in a military coalition to pressure Tehran.
The arrival of the F-22s is part of a previously announced deployment of new forces into the Middle East to improve U.S. ability to protect its forces throughout the region, notably in Iraq and Syria.
Credible intelligence indicated that Iranian forces and their regional allies could be planning to attack Americans in the region, U.S. officials said. Combat engineer forces have been sent to the region to bolster defensive structures, as well as several Army batteries and the Patriot missile system, a defensive anti-missile, anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile system.