News outlets in Cyprus have reacted in awe and fury over a report by ABC News, which refers to the ''secret'' presence of US evacuation helicopters in Cyprus between 2013 - 2017.
Approximately 40 contractors provided a regional contingency capability, primarily as an air bridge support to the US Embassy in Beirut and assisted in the transportation and evacuation of personnel. The team was created following the events in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the deaths of US Ambassador John Stevens and diplomat Sean Smith.
According to a report from the State Department Office of the Inspector General, cited by ABC News, the aforementioned contingency planning included five helicopters and approximately 40 government contractors at a cost of about $20 million per year. The operation was cancelled in 2017 following a review of the usefulness and cost of the deployment.
The State Department Office of the Inspector General report, issued in late September, flagged the 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.
Invited to comment on the ABC report, Government Spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said that “in relation to the report about a helicopter base in Cyprus, the government of the Republic has no comment. Questions should be addressed to the US authorities.”
The government reaction, in what amounts to a bipolar reaction to the 24 hours news cycle, last month was lobbying for US support in its energy drilling operations offshore as well as seeking a vote of confidence for the Cyprus problem - has now evidently decided to backtrack.
It is important to remember that during the 2006 Lebanon War many countries evacuated their nationals through Cyprus and the Republic was commented for its readiness to assist. Following the Lebanon evacuations Cyprus forged numerous arrangements and agreements with its partners that allow for the use of Cypriot airspace and facilities for humanitarian and evacuation purposes, so the news come as no surprise. In fact such arrangements are purposefully sought after by Cyprus as it increases the importance of Cyprus as a logistical hub in the Eastern Mediterranean. Commentators will be quick to point out that the helicopters operated through the British sovereign bases in Cyprus and not from government airports.
Perhaps we need to work on building mutual trust. Still, inconsistent.