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News 04 Oct 17

Croatia is Lending the Pentagon its Infrastructure, Minister Confirms

Croatia’s Defence Minister admitted the US military is using its infrastructure following BIRN’s revelation that a small island airport had become a Pentagon hub.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Defence Minister Damir Krsticevic. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Stipe Majic

Damir Krsticevic, Croatia’s Minister of Defence, confirmed on Wednesday that the US military had been permitted to use the country’s infrastructure.

He was responding to questions from reporters on news revealed on Tuesday by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network that Rijeka airport, located on the island of Krk, had seen an influx of Pentagon commissioned cargo-planes carrying munitions and unidentified military supplies since April.

The equipment was bound for the Middle East and very likely included weapons and ammunitions for anti-ISIS forces in Syria.

Krsticevic declined to comment directly on the findings of BIRN’s investigation, but added: “We […] are working with our friends and allies […] reasonably, within the framework of cooperation, partnership and friendship.

“Croatia's infrastructure is used, but this infrastructure is used under all international agreements and programmes, and this is something that a partner, ally and friend does.”

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said today that he had no information on the issue.

BIRN identified 14 Pentagon-commissioned cargo flights in the past six months carrying, or probably carrying, Eastern Bloc-style weapons and ammunition to or from Rijeka.

Since April, ten flights have been operated by Pentagon-commissioned air carriers between Rijeka and the US’s airbase in Qatar, Al Udeid Air Base, with the last taking off on September 25.

Each used a specific call-sign, ‘CMB’, given to cargo flights chartered by the Pentagon. Before landing in Rijeka, the planes used a commercial flight number, indicating that the unidentified military cargo was picked up in Croatia.

Evidence collected by BIRN suggests the cargo is likely to have been arms from former Eastern Bloc countries destined for the Middle East.

Leaked flight manifests show ammunition from Azerbaijan was delivered to Rijeka airport in June and July for the Pentagon’s Special Operation Command, SOCOM, which is responsible for sourcing equipment for Syrian rebels.

A US procurement document also reveals that $16million of Bulgarian ammunition is being delivered through Croatia this year for Pentagon-backed groups in Syria and Iraq.

Air traffic control at Rijeka declined to comment on the planes’ cargo, but admitted that there had been “many more” of these types of flights this year.

The Croatian government and the Pentagon has not respond to requests for a comment on Rijeka’s use as a hub for military flights. Croatia's ministry of defence and foreign affairs and aviation authority did not respond, while the Ministry of Trade said the information was confidential.

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