2009 - Another Year of Foreign Military Might at Shannon Airport

Over 1,330 U.S. troop carriers and other military aircraft passed through Shannon Airport in 2009. This meant that around 5,000 troops plus their weapons transited through the airport every week, as did contracted cargo planes and other military aircraft on their way to and from war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Planes linked with the CIA renditions programme also continued to visit the airport in 2009, and in the absence of an open and transparent process of inspection of these planes, there are no guarantees that they were not involved in illegal kidnapping and torture.

Detailed records of flights logged by Shannonwatch show that over the 12-month period up to 31 December, the number of U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft that landed at Shannon was in excess of 360. In the same period over 970 aircraft contracted by the U.S. military to transport troops and cargo passed through the airport. In addition, thousands of U.S. Air Force and Navy flights used Irish airspace as part of their military operations. This further reveals the strategic role Ireland has played in two wars, largely without the knowledge or approval of the Irish people.

According to Shannonwatch, a group of peace and human rights activists who recorded the Shannon flight logs, the figures show an alarmingly high scale of war activity at a supposedly civilian airport. "With the reduction in services at Shannon by Aer Lingus, Delta and Ryan Air it is becoming more like a U.S. military base every day" said a spokesperson for the group. "But Irish people need to question why the government has supported the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan for so long. These wars have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, yet we actively support them despite our pretence of being a neutral state."

In early December the Minister for Transport confirmed to Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin of Sinn Fein that 243,000 U.S. troops had passed through Shannon in the first 11 months of 2009. These are carried by the contract airline company Omni Air International which accounts for most of the military traffic at the airport. As many as 5 of their DC-10 troop carriers can be seen at Shannon on some days, with uniformed U.S. military personnel routinely taking over the duty free lounge. "Passengers waiting to board the few remaining civilian flights see the traumatized looks on the faces of young soldiers returning home, after experiencing the brutalizing effect of the U.S. wars. Some will have lost friends and comrades during their tour of duty; others will have seen innocent men, women and children being killed - or may even have killed themselves" said a Shannonwatch spokesperson.

U.S. Air Force and Navy landings reached a high in April when 49 military aircraft were recorded at the airport. These included eight C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft, which can be used to carry troops or passengers as well as heavy munitions and other goods. They also included seven C-9 Skytrains, which are medium-range aircraft used primarily by the U.S. Air Force's Air Mobility Command, and two in-flight refueling aircraft. These refuellers can carry cargo or passengers, but their primary mission is the refueling of strategic long-range bombers.

Other U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft recorded at Shannon in 2009 included C-17 Globemaster turbofan aircraft. These are capable of airlifting large payloads over intercontinental ranges without refueling. A number of large military passenger jets were also recorded at Shannon, including Boeing C40-B's adapted for use by combat commanders as "offices in the sky". More than 100 executive jets, carrying senior military and U.S. government officials, also used the airport last year.

Aircraft operated by Murray Air, which holds a license to carry explosives, weapons and depleted uranium, also used Shannon regularly in 2009. Between April and December the airline, which is owned by National Airlines, took weekly supplies of cargo for the U.S. military through Shannon on their way to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. These flights typically overnighted at Shannon on Saturdays, and stopped overnight at the airport again on the return journey on Wednesdays.

In March 2008, a Murray Air aircraft was involved in an emergency landing at Shannon after it was seen flying over Askeaton with flames coming from one of its engines. Residents of the County Limerick town described their windows rattling and houses shaking as the cargo plane flew low over a housing estate in the town. This incident once again highlighted the inherent danger in using a civilian airport like Shannon for the transit of explosive military cargo.

Other private cargo companies that have contracts with the U.S. military such as Kalitta Air and Evergreen International Aviation also passed through Shannon Airport in 2009.

In January of this year the Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey confirmed that a total of 1,276 civilian flights were granted permits to carry weapons and munitions of war through Ireland in 2009. In response to a parliamentary question from Michael D. Higgins TD he said that the vast majority of these were from American civil airlines, chartered by the U.S. military, and involved flights to or from the United States, and that almost all landed at Shannon Airport.

Shannonwatch have also been concerned by the ongoing use of Shannon Airport by planes linked to the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program, which they use to transfer individuals from one country to another by means that bypass all judicial and administrative due process. Four planes identified as being involved in such rendition cases in the past by Amnesty International, the human rights group Reprieve and the EU parliamentary committee set up to investigate such flights, landed at Shannon Airport multiple times in 2009. Further planes suspected of being involved in rendition flights have also been recorded at Shannon airport in 2009.

Gardai at Shannon have been asked on many occasions to search rendition-linked aircraft and to confirm if cargo planes are carrying illegal or undeclared munitions. No planes have ever been searched at Shannon since the military build-up to the wars in Afghanistan began in 2002, as far as Shannonwatch is aware. Yet the Irish government continues to pay more than €3 million a year for security to facilitate the military traffic through the airport and subsidises the Air Traffic Control fees of approximately €2 million per year. This negates most if not all of the "profit" made from servicing these aircraft and personnel on the ground at Shannon.

The Irish Government set up a Cabinet Committee on Aspects of International Human Rights to review and strengthen legislation governing the search and inspection of such planes in 2008. However nothing has been yet done to end Ireland's cover up of serious human rights abuse. After a full year of inactivity on the part of this committee, Shannonwatch is calling on it to do what it was set up to do without delay, and to make the outcomes of its review public.

The use of Shannon Airport by the U.S. military is contrary to Ireland's proud tradition of neutrality and peacekeeping. Furthermore it has resulted in weak security, ongoing human rights abuse and corrupt government in Afghanistan, as well as countless deaths in Iraq. Shannonwatch therefore calls on the Irish government to reverse its decision to allow Shannon airport to be used by the U.S. in its wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars are not serving the interests of the people living in these countries, and the vital logistical support provided at Shannon is morally as well as financially indefensible.

For further information contact Shannonwatch on 087 8225087 or email shannonwatch@gmail.com. 087 8225087

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