The head of Portugal’s Air Force, General José Pinheiro, expressed “surprise” at the scale of the planned reduction by the U.S. of its military presence at Lajes Air Field, on Terceira island, in the Azores, but reserved judgment on the implications.
“It was a surprise when we received [news of] of the scale of the reduction,” General Pinheiro said Thursday.
He also dismissed the suggestion that the U.S. decision would imply scaling back the Portuguese contingents at other air bases in the country.
Pinheiro said it was necessary to find out exactly which U.S. forces are to pull out and when, and which will remain, so that the Portuguese air command can plan accordingly.
Regarding the Azores military facility, Pinheiro said: “The American authorities have communicated to Portugal that they have the intention of reducing the American military and civilian staff that work for the American armed forces in the Azores, but they haven’t yet given us details.”
According to several sources, the U.S. presence at Lajes Air Field will be downsized from about 800 personnel, plus 600 relatives, to some 160 military.
The deep cuts in the U.S. military presence at Lajes air force base in the Azores is the result of “difficult budget cuts” that are necessary but should protect “vital intestates” of a “key ally” like Portugal, Republican congressman Devin Nunes had told Lusa early in the week.
Nunes, who is of Portuguese descent, also said: “The US has to make these difficult budget cuts because of our national debt of §16 trillion”, he said.
Pentagon officials told Lusa that they had advised the Portuguese government that the cutbacks were “basically definitive,” but that there were still “serious discussions on-going about the process.”
On Wednesday, the Portuguese Parliament Defense Committee unanimously approved a proposal to request a joint hearing with the ministers for Defense and Foreign Affairs to debate the issue.
Activated in 1943, the Lajes Air Field is located on the northeast tip of Terceira Island. It is home to the 65th Air Base Wing and U.S. Forces Azores providing logistics support for more than 3,000 aircraft, including fighters from the United States and 20 allied nations.
The Azores (population 250,000) became an Autonomous Region of Portugal in 1976. The government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores includes the Legislative Assembly, composed of 57 elected deputies, elected by universal suffrage for a four-year term; the Regional Government and Presidency, with parliamentary legitimacy, composed of a President, a Vice-President and seven Regional Secretaries responsible for the Regional Government executive operations. The Autonomous Region of the Azores is represented in the Council of Ministers of the Central Government by a representative appointed by the President of Portugal.