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US Drones Operating from Greek Airfield, American Base Move from Turkey?

May 28, 2018

The U.S. Air Force has started using MQ-9 Reaper drones out of Larisa Air Force Base in central Greece, near the Aegean Sea, but they are unarmed and for surveillance purposes only, the Pentagon told the American-based Defense News.

It’s the first time the US has operated drones in Greece, the newspaper To Vima said, but there was no indication it had anything to do with Turkish provocations in the Aegean, where Turkish warships and fighter jets have repeatedly violated Greek airspace and waters although both are members of NATO.

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told Defense News that the drones are temporarily stationed in Greece while their usual base in Africa undergoes repairs.

“These aircraft are unarmed and are only used for reconnaissance. Due to operational security considerations, however, we do not release details on specific missions,” Pahon said. “Its support on this mission and others is critical to achieving our joint foreign policy security objectives in the region, specifically to address threats emanating from the south.”

The drones are being stationed at Larisa under an existing joint training order between the two nations. Staff handling the take-off and landing of the Reapers will be stationed at Larisa, with operators in the continental U.S. handling normal flight operations via satellite — a common set-up for the MQ-9, the site said.

The aircraft only fly through Greek airspace ”on routes that have been approved by the Greece government and while operating in Greek airspace are in contact with Greek Air Traffic Control authorities at all times,” Auburn Davis, Chief of Media operations for USAF Air Forces Africa said.
Pahon wouldn’t identify which base the drones usually operate from but Defense News said the US has expanded the Agadez Air Base in Niger to prepare for greater use of the MQ-9.

There was no response from Turkey, an important US ally geopolitically in the region despite its provoking of Greece. The U.S. has long relied on the Incirlik military base to launch operations in the region but relations have been tense since a failed coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.

To Vima, which first reported on the drones, said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wes Mitchell discussed moving a “significant portion” of the military presence from Incirlik to Greece during a recent visit to Athens.

Due to “operational security considerations,” the Air Force declined to release details about the missions for which they’ll be used beyond referencing “foreign policy security objectives in the region, specifically to address threats emanating from the south,” the site The Intercept reported.
“The U.S. has previously deployed drones or drone operations support personnel to Italy and Tunisia to support operations over Libya. This deployment to Larissa, Greece, is also most probably in support of U.S. objectives in Libya, where the U.S. has for several years used drones to mitigate the threats posed by Islamic militant groups and to support local partners,” Dan Gettinger, co-founder and co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, told The Intercept.

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