NEWS

Crete is spy plane hub

Souda Bay – Using the small US Navy base on Crete as their hub, military planners have stepped up flights of American spy planes to chart Iraq’s preparations for possible war, commanders said. The missions are part of Pentagon attempts to monitor Iraqi troop movements and military capabilities, such as suspected Scud missile batteries. The images could also help guide UN inspectors hunting for any clues to hidden Iraqi nuclear arms or biological and chemical stockpiles. The flights suggest Souda Bay Naval Base – a harbor and airfield – could assume a vital intelligence-gathering role if the current showdown leads to battle. During the 1991 Gulf War, Souda Bay was mostly a depot for refueling and rearming warplanes. According to base officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, an increased number of US Air Force RC-135 and US Navy EP-3 reconnaissance planes have been using Souda Bay for Gulf region flights. Located 1,680 kilometers (1,040 miles) from Baghdad, the base is well within the range of both planes. In addition, the RC-135 can be refueled in flight by KC-135 tankers, which are also stationed at the base. Base officials would not provide specifics on the number of aircraft or their flights. Souda Bay – the last US base in Greece – serves as an intelligence center for operations in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Mediterranean Sea.