Ireland Facilitated Thousands of U.S. Air Force and Troop Carrier Flights in 2010

President Obama declared the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq in August 2010, but as records of military traffic released by Shannonwatch show, 2010 was a year of business as usual for the U.S. military at the civilian Shannon Airport.  Over a thousand U.S. military troop and cargo flights landed at the airport in 2010, while more than four and a half thousand such flights are known to have passed through Irish airspace en-route to and from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cargo companies with U.S. military contracts and planes linked to the extraordinary renditions programme also continued to use Shannon Airport.

Shannonwatch’s detailed records show that over the 12-month period up to 31 December, over 350 U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft and an additional 750 Omni Air International troop carriers landed at Shannon. In addition, almost two thousand U.S. Air Force/Navy flights and more than two and a half thousand troop carrying flights were logged transiting Irish airspace around Shannon. These overflights include other companies such as World Airways and North American Airlines who are also contracted by the U.S. military to carry troops.

Shannon airport was used frequently by American C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft in 2010, with as many as four landing in one 48 hour period in November. These heavy cargo aircraft are used to carry troops as well as heavy munitions and other goods. Other U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft recorded at Shannon in 2010 included C-17 Globemaster turbofan aircraft capable of airlifting large payloads over intercontinental ranges without refuelling, and C-9 Skytrain military passenger aircraft (61 landings recorded). The C-9’s are medium-range aircraft used primarily by the U.S. Air Force's Air Mobility Command.

More than 110 passenger aircraft adapted for military use and over 120 executive jets carrying senior military and U.S. government officials also used the airport in 2010.

In addition to Omni Air International, other commercial cargo companies with U.S. military contracts also used Shannon last year. These included Kalitta Air, Evergreen International, National Airlines (which now owns another company with U.S. military contracts, Murray Air), and Volga-Dnepr.

“On average there were over three U.S. military flights a day through Shannon in 2010” said a Shannonwatch spokesperson. “This is not something the airport authorities or the Irish government highlight, as they know Irish people would be outraged at the extent to which we assist a foreign military power if it was publicised. Shannon has been an integral part of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has contributed to long term instability and human suffering in both countries.”

Four planes linked to the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program also used the airport in 2010. These planes were identified as being involved in rendition cases by Amnesty International, the human rights group Reprieve and the EU parliamentary committee set up to investigate such flights. Further suspected planes, including one that regularly flies to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, also landed at Shannon Airport last year. Although the Irish government has repeatedly stated that there was no evidence of CIA rendition planes using Shannon Airport, a recent U.S. embassy cable released by Wikileaks has exposed the fact that as far back as 2007 the government was aware that at least three flights directly involved with rendition cases had landed and refuelled at Shannon airport.

In November a further leaked diplomatic cable indicated just how important the use of Shannon Airport is to the U.S. military.  In this cable the U.S.  Ambassador to Ireland stated that Shannon was “a key transit point for U.S. troops and material bound for theatres in the global war on terror”.  However, the spread of volcanic ash from Iceland in April and May of 2009 resulted in the re-routing of U.S troop and military cargo flights through different airports across Europe. This shows that while Shannon Airport is strategically important to the U.S. wars and occupations in the Middle East, it is by no means an indispensable part of their logistics. Shannon Airport’s reliance on military traffic for income is therefore as economically unsustainable as it is morally unjustifiable.

For more information see www.shannonwatch.org.