THE UNITED States has told the Portuguese government that it wishes to invest in the Lajes air base in the Azores as part of its fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.
The information was reported in the weekend broadsheet Sol from an unnamed government source. The newspaper quotes the source as stating: “The United States has a significant investment capacity available to inject into the Lajes air base with the objective of fighting drug trafficking and terrorism, and to strangle the financial activities of radical groups.”
American officials at the United States Embassy at Lisbon, which has contacts with officials at the Portuguese Foreign Affairs Ministry and Ministry of Defence, have allegedly made it be known that the US is “interested in the possibility of stationing an advanced guard of significant military capacity to combat drug and human trafficking as well as installing a radar surveillance system to keep tabs on traffic over the north and south Atlantic.”
The US is also apparently interested in the Lajes air base to “store sensitive military technology and to support the new US command in Africa (AFRICOM), since African countries are not sufficiently secure.”
The investment could also include improving the runways and air base infrastructure, which would be “essential for both forces and logistic support for US soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq”.
In addition, the US is said to be studying the possibility of setting up a training centre for pilots manning fifth generation jet fighters such as the F-22 Raptor – although there are alternative sites for this suggestion including Turkey, Romania and Italy. A test pad for air-to-air hypersonic missiles, which are fired from these state-of-the-art war planes, has also been mooted.
The United States could invest millions of dollars at the air base on the island of Terceira which has been used by the United States military since the 1950s and the Cold War.
It has also been suggested that this US boost to the local economy of the Azores, which could extend to more than one island, also has the backing of the Azores Autonomous Regional Government headed up by Carlos Cesar.
Should the Portuguese government accept the proposals from the US government, these could be formally discussed at a forthcoming meeting on February 21 when the United States-Portugal Bilateral Commission meets, which regularly discusses the Lajes Accord.
The government source added that up until now discussions have been of a purely informal nature as a way of “testing the waters of Portuguese interest” and that “Portugal is now waiting for official and concrete proposals from the United States”.
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