ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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US sends warplanes with bunker-busting bombs to Mideast in message to Iran — report

Wall Street Journal says aging A-10 Warthogs upgraded to be equipped with 113-kilogram precision-guided GBU-39/B munitions, following recent attacks on US forces in Syria, Iraq

Illustrative: A US A-10 Warthog maneuvers next to mountains during live fire exercises, as part of the annual US-Philippines joint military exercise at Crow Valley, in Capas town, Tarlac province, north of Manila on April 10, 2019. (TED ALJIBE / AFP)
Illustrative: A US A-10 Warthog maneuvers next to mountains during live fire exercises, as part of the annual US-Philippines joint military exercise at Crow Valley, in Capas town, Tarlac province, north of Manila on April 10, 2019. (TED ALJIBE / AFP)

In a show of force to Iran, the United States military has equipped aircraft sent to the Middle East with advanced bunker-busting bombs, American officials told The Wall Street Journal on Friday.

According to the report, around a dozen A-10 Warthogs were refitted to allow the attack aircraft to carry up to 16 of the precision-guided GBU-39/B bombs.

The paper said it was the first time the aging A-10 planes were equipped with the 113-kilogram (250-pound) bunker-busting munitions.

The officials told the Journal that the upgrade was aimed at enabling pilots a greater chance of success in destroying ammunition bunkers and other entrenched targets in Iraq and Syria, where US forces have repeatedly come under attack by Iran-backed militias.

The relatively slow-flying plane, introduced in the 1970s, is generally used to provide close air support for US forces in areas like Syria, where enemy forces do not have planes of their own to challenge the American pilots.

Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, who oversees US Air Force operations across the Middle East and Southeast Asia as head of the US Air Forces Central Command, told the WSJ: “The A-10s are highly effective at some of the things we need to do.”

The Warthogs squadron — around 12 aircraft — was arriving in the Middle East during heightened tensions with Iran and following a series of attacks against US bases in Syria.

Illustrative: Crewmen enter Bradley fighting vehicles at a US military base at an undisclosed location in Northeastern Syria, on Nov. 11, 2019. (AP /Darko Bandic)

On Thursday, Iran’s navy seized an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, as it sailed from Kuwait to the US. Iran said two Iranian crew members were missing and several others injured after a collision in the Gulf involving the tanker, the Marshall Islands-flagged Advantage Sweet.

The US Navy’s 5th Fleet said Iran was violating international law by seizing the tanker, calling for its immediate release. It was at least the fifth commercial vessel taken by Tehran in the last two years, the 5th Fleet said.

Last month, Iran-backed militias carried out several attacks against US forces in Syria, including a drone attack that killed an American contractor. The US responded to the attacks with airstrikes on Iranian-linked forces in Syria.

Grynkewich said the new Warthogs squadron represents a 50 percent increase in the number of attack aircraft in the region.

Last month, the US military announced that it had dispatched a nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine to the Middle East amid increasing tensions with Iran and concerns of further attacks.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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