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British Forces on Cyprus

Under the provisions of the Treaty of Establishment, Britain retained perpetual sovereignty over two areas on the southern coast of Cyprus, totaling 256 square kilometers. A further fifteen reserved areas, including water sources and off-base radar sites, remained under British jurisdiction. Since 1960 the British Army and Royal Air Force (RAF) have garrisoned up to 10,000 troops in the Sovereign Base Areas at Akrotiri and Dhekelia. Formerly, two squadrons of bombers and their fighter escorts were based on Cyprus, but since the late 1970s the RAF has no longer stationed combat aircraft on the island.

With the decline of the British military presence in the Middle East, the bases have been used as training sites for RAF and ground force units and staging areas between Britain and southern Asia and the Far East. With permission from the Cyprus government, British troops also carried on extensive training outside the base area in the Troodos Mountains. The bases provided support for UN troops on Cyprus and workshops for maintenance of UN equipment. The most important role of the bases was electronic intelligence gathering and communications relay. Intercepts were made of aircraft, ship, and satellite communications from the eastern Mediterranean through the Middle East to Iran. Information so acquired was shared with the United States. Although the bases had no formal link to NATO, their presence in the primary area of operation of the Soviet naval squadron in the Mediterranean was of material value to the alliance.

The bases provided logistic support for peace-keeping missions by United States forces in the Middle East, including the Multinational Force sent to Lebanon in 1982. U-2 reconnaissance planes were based at Akrotiri beginning in the 1970s, to monitor the cease-fire in the Sinai. The United States also maintained Blackhawk helicopters there, which had flown support missions on behalf of the American Embassy in Beirut prior to its closure.

As of 1990, the British personnel strength of the Sovereign Base Areas was about 4,000, plus approximately the same number of dependents. The army units consisted of one infantry battalion plus two infantry companies and one armored reconnaissance squadron. The only permanent RAF unit was a squadron of five Wessex helicopters. The army had six Gazelle helicopters, which also served to support UNFICYP activities.

The British bases were a long-standing source of contention, although most Greek Cypriots as of 1990 accepted the presence of British forces. Military relations were very good, and British and Greek Cypriot authorities cooperated closely in antiterrorism matters. Virtually all Greek Cypriot political parties agreed that Britain should eventually give up its rights on the island. The communist party, AKEL, was the most vocal in attacking the use of the bases for intelligence purposes and in calling for the British to relinquish the territory.

Data as of January 1991