Just to the west of the city of Limassol in Cyprus lies some beautiful countryside. As you drive through the villages of Phassouri, Asomatos and Kolossi complete with orange and lemon groves, you pass under canopies of trees and vegetation. On one side is a magnificent salt lake, complete with Flamingos, but just beyond it is the incongruous site of the British air force base of Akrotiri.
When Cyprus became independent from Britain in 1960, the deal was that Britain would retain two large tracts of land in the east and the west of the island. Royal Air Force Akrotiri lies in the Western ‘sovereign base area’ and is a vital military outpost for Britian’s forces in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Barely an hour after the UK Parliament voted to bomb DAESH targets in Syria, Tornado jets from this base were in the air. Two by two the planes left Cyprus, which at it’s closest point is barely 100 km from the Syrian coastline.
The first pair took off at 0130 local time, returning four hours later. A second pair flew shortly afterwards on a separate mission, flying home in time for breakfast.
The targets had been pre-approved before the vote in the British parliament. Reconnaissance pods known as the 'Raptor' had already been deployed. The high-resolution pod, carried by Tornados has a variety of sensors, capable of detecting targets from more than 135 km away.
UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon described the sortie targeting the Omar oil fields in eastern Syria "successful," saying it strikes "a very real blow at the oil and the revenue on which the DAESH terrorists depend."
The presence of large, post colonial military zones on the island of Cyprus is not accepted by all Cypriots. Plenty have protested outside the bases in the past, wanting the land to be returned. Britain has stoutly defended their retention.
It’s at times like these that the real strategic value of bases like RAF Akrotiri is plain to see. It’s a location that will be extremely busy in the months to come.
Author: Francis Collings