‘No comment’ on secret base
SOUTH Cyprus said on Wednesday it had no comment on a US official report showing that the island secretly hosted a $70 million American helicopter base for four years. The base was quietly shut down in 2017.
Greek Cypriot government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou told the [South] Cyprus News Agency (CAN): “The government of the Republic has no comment. Questions should be addressed to the US authorities.”
According to a report on ABC news, citing a government document, over nearly four years the US State Department spent some $70 million on a base that was “quickly set up and served little clear purpose before its quiet closing last year”.
It said the base, which was established in September 2013 and closed in August 2017, 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).
The OIG report states that the base “provided the department a regional contingency capability with a focus on air bridge support to Embassy Beirut and assisted in the transportation and (if needed) the evacuation of personnel from the embassy”.
The location of the base on the island was not evident from the report but the most likely spot is the British sovereign base at RAF Akrotiri.
“For more than three years, the department maintained a substantial regional aviation base in Cyprus without conducting a cost-benefit analysis to determine the aviation capacity needed or the appropriate resource allocation to support the mission,” the report said.
The OIG said it had not received any documentation contemporaneous with the base’s opening that described its function. The opening and the closing of the aviation base in Cyprus were not approved by the State Department’s Aviation Governing Board (AGB).
Department officials with whom the OIG spoke stated that the decision to establish the base was made quickly, possibly as a reaction to rising tensions in the region. On the basis of its work, OIG believes that the then-Under Secretary for Management likely made the decision without consulting the AGB.
The department also did not seek the AGB’s approval for closing the aviation operation, which occurred on short notice.
According to ABC News, Patrick Kennedy, the senior State Department official who made the decision to establish the base at time, told the channel he strongly disagreed with the OIG’s conclusions about its usefulness, and said it was a “rational decision”.
Representatives for the State Department did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment but Mr Kennedy, who’s now retired, told them the base was established due to very real security concerns in the region and, despite the OIG’s assertion, “there were no other options.”
Two former US officials familiar with the Cyprus air base told ABC News they agreed the base 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.