Cyprus & World News

DEFENCE: US operated secret helicopter base on Cyprus

10 October, 2018

Washington spent some $70 mln on a Cyprus air base that was quickly set up and served little clear purpose before it was shut down in 2017 after four years, ABC News reported.

It said the base, which was established in September 2013 and closed in August 2017 and hosted five helicopters and approximately 40 government contractors at a cost of about $20 million per year, according to a recent report from the State Department Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

Nicosia said it had no comment to make on the issue.

"In relation to an American publication about an air base in Cyprus, the Cypriot government has no comment to make. Questions should be addressed to the US authorities," Cyprus government spokesmanm Prodromos Prodromou told reporters in Crete on Wednesday.

Kathimerini Cyprus online said it was told by unnamed sources with “knowledge of the issue” that the helicopters were non-military and were stationed within British base sovereign territory on the island.

“These sources confirmed the presence of US helicopters during the period 2013-2017 in Cyprus on British Bases territory,” said Kathimerini.

It said, “there was no request and no land granted by the Republic (of Cyprus) to establish an American Base”.

“The helicopters in Cyprus were not military and their presence here was solely for the purpose of transferring civilians or US personnel from countries in the region,” said Kathimerini.

The State Department’s official watchdog determined that the air base was established without the approval of the Department’s Aviation Governing Board (AGB) and said the State Department was unable to produce any records from the time the base began operating that “explain[ed] the purpose of the base, the anticipated cost of any evacuation services or the likely extent of its usage.”

Patrick Kennedy, a senior State Department official who made the decision to establish the base at the time, told ABC News he strongly disagrees with the OIG’s conclusions about its usefulness, and said it was a “rational decision.”

He said the purpose of the base was to assist in potential evacuations, including at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon -- a contingency that never came to pass.

The report did say the Cyprus base once helped with an undated military evacuation in the Sinai.

It flagged the Cyprus base as evidence of wasteful spending, finding that the State Department “could have saved nearly $71 million in potentially unnecessary expenditures” had proper procedures been followed.

Two former US officials familiar with the Cyprus air base told ABC News they agreed that it seemed to serve no clear purpose. One said that for the most part the contractor pilots spent their time flying lazy loops over the island to keep up their proficiency.

“It was a flight club,” the ex-official said.

The Cyprus air base was established a year after the September 11, 2012 attack on a US diplomatic facility and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed.

The Obama administration was later criticised for what some saw as an inadequate response to the emergency, and one of the former US officials with whom ABC News spoke suspected that might have played into the establishment of the Cyprus air base.

“Department officials with whom OIG spoke stated that the decision to establish the base was made quickly, possibly as a reaction to rising tensions in the region,” the report said.