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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sessions: Deliberations on Wheelus Air Force Base

(March 28, 1967)

Wheelus Air Base

Senator McCarthy. What about the overall strategic plans? You said we made a study in Tunisia and made these recommendations. Is this simply in terms of this North African complex or do our recommendations there and our concessions with reference to Libya involve somewhat more comprehensive strategic planning than just this self-contained North African complex?

Mr. Palmer. Well, in the case of Tunisia, of course, we are interested in stability in the area. We are interested in the very prowestern orientation of Tunisia. Bourguiba has been extremely courageous in speaking out on a great many political issues of importance to us. He supported us on Vietnam. He has taken a very forward stance. This put him at odds with the rest of the Arab world with respect to the Arab-Israel conflict, and he has stood for a great deal in Africa and the Middle East.

In the case of Libya, of course, our interests there are much more direct. We do have an extremely important facility there in Wheelus.

Senator Symington. What is important about the Wheelus airbase?

Mr. Palmer. In the Wheelus airbase?

Senator McCarthy. Is it just a base or is it more than that?

Senator Symington. I have been there, and I would like to hear the modern version.

Mr. Palmer. As the Senator knows, the importance of the facility right now, it is supporting all of our U.S. NATO-committed air forces in Europe, in terms of year-round gunnery training.

Senator Symington. So if we decided to reduce our forces in Germany, for example, that would reduce the need for the Air Force base, would it not, at Wheelus, because that is where they do the staging?

Mr. Palmer. In terms of the percentage that it would be used, but you would still have the requirement of forces in Europe that would need that type of facility.

Senator McCarthy. Fleet support, in the Mediterranean.

Mr. Palmer. No, these are basically in support of the U.S. Air Force units in Europe.

Senator McCarthy. Is that right?

Senator Symington. In other words, as I got the story when I was in Germany, Wheelus was very important because they could fly to Wheelus and fly around the desert when the weather would not let them fly in Germany.

Mr. Palmer. Precisely.

Senator Symington. You wonder, inasmuch as the weather in England is not as good as Germany, why they built about the greatest air force in the world in their day, but I suppose it is more comfortable this way.

Senator McCarthy. When they decided peace will stay for a while, they decided to establish places in good climates.

Senaor Symington. The thought occurs to me very seriously to see it all ties in together if you are going to maintain this picture over there, keeping these troops in Germany to the extent that we are keeping them and not following what President Eisenhower recommended years ago, pulling a lot of them out, and to the degree that you do not pull them out, Wheelus is important.

When we had the staging base complex, which was long before the intercontinental ballistic missile, then these bases were terribly important. They were militarily important. Now I understand you say they are logistically important, but if there is nothing over there to support, then they become relatively unimportant. Is that not correct?

Mr. Lang. If there were no forces in Europe to support.

Senator Symington. Right. And we have spent a good many hundred million dollars in Spain where we are behind the Pyrenees. The bases there are great and the weather is just about as good. The bases are better as a whole; more bases there than one base at Wheelus and so forth.

So this really ties into the whole operation over there.

Sources: Federation of American Scientists