The United States has deployed F-22 stealth fighters to Qatar for the first time, its military said, adding to a buildup of US forces in the Gulf amid tensions with Iran.
The US Air Forces Central Command, in a statement on Friday, said that the Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth fighters have been deployed to “Qatar for the first time in order to defend American forces and interests.”
It however did not specify how many of the hi-tech planes had been sent. Later a photo handout showed five of the jets flying above the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
The F-22 was created as the replacement of the successful F-15 Eagle in the early 2000s. The US Air Force claims it “cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft”.
Costing about $150m apiece, the F-22 Raptor is a fifth-generation, single-seat, twin-engine fighter jet, designed primarily as an air superiority fighter, but also has a ground attack and signal intelligence capabilities.
The deployment comes a week after an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down a US spy drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has said that the drone was intruding its airspace, while Washington claimed it was over international waters.
Tensions have escalated further with Washington announcing, this week, new sanctions against Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Last week 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.