Naval Air Station Sigonella
|One of the most important US bases in the world|
| Naval Air Station Sigonella|
The United States Naval Air Facility (NAF), Sigonella, was established 15 June 1959. Because of its location near the center of the Mediterranean Sea, NASSIG is well placed to support operations by the U.S. 6th Fleet, other U.S. military units, and U.S. allies and coalition partners.
NAS Sigonella has the best claim to be hub of U.S. naval air operations in the Mediterranean. The base command is landlord to more than 40 other U.S. units. Among the largest are a rotating P-3C patrol squadron; a Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station; and a U.S. Naval Hospital. The hospital was built in 1992. Previously, there was only a clinic and the closest U.S. Naval Hospital was at Naples. Sigonella is home to more than 4,000 troops, civilian personnel, and family members.
In the 1980s, "Naval Air Facility" Sigonella was redesignated as a "Naval Air Station".
Achille Lauro and standoff with the Italian government
On the night of 10 October 1985, there were tense hours on NAS II when the Italian Carabinieri, Italian Air Force, and the US Army's Delta Force came close to firing upon one another following the interception by Navy F-14 Tomcat fighters of an Egyptian Boeing 737 airliner carrying the hijackers of the Italian cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, which had been commandeered by members of the PLO on 7 October. The hijackers had killed a Jewish-American citizen Leon Klinghoffer. The F-14s instructed the Egyptian plane to land at Sigonella where the Americans had planned to take the hijackers into custody. The Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi instead claimed the hijackers were under Italian jurisdiction. The Italian authorities therefore refused to allow the SEALs to board the plane, threatening to open fire on the Americans had they made an attempt to do so. This move was supposedly dictated both by security concerns about terrorists targeting Italy if the United States had had it their way, and by the Italian tradition of diplomacy with the Arab world. The ensuing stand-off lasted throughout the night, until President Ronald Reagan gave the orders for the Americans to stand down.
Sigonella and regime change in Italy
The Sigonella base may have played a motive for the Mani Pulite ('Clean hands') anti-corruption campaign in Italy. Because of the tense situation between the US and Italy over the sovereignty of the base, and because the Italian government was too friendly to Libya, the US had a motive to punish them. The Christian-Democrats were old allies in the Cold War, but since it was over, there was no geopolitical risk in this. Several Italian analysts claim the Manu Pulite revelations, which led to several hundred convictions for corruption, including former PM Bettino Craxi, were leaked to the Italian press and judiciary as part of an attempt to get a weaker and more docile government in Italy.
When NATO attacked Libya in 2011, NAS Sigonella played an important role in US Operation Odyssey Dawn because of its short distance to the country. As Libya remained unstable in 2013, a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force–Crisis Response unit was formed and an element of this was moved to the base to be within V-22 range of Libya.
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