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Rumsfeld Thanks NATO as AWACS Planes Head Home

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 2, 2002 – NATO Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft deployed here in the wake of last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will be heading home May 16, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced April 30 at the Pentagon.

"Operation Eagle Assist, as the mission was called, marked the very first time that NATO deployed assets in direct support of operations in the continental United States," Rumsfeld said.

After the strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked Article 5 of its charter, which states that an attack on one of the alliance's 19 members is an attack on all. In the past, NATO used AWACS in the Balkans to assist in air operations.

Rumsfeld thanked the NATO allies and the more than 830 crew members from 13 NATO nations who helped defend America's skies. NATO crews have flown nearly 4,300 hours and more than 360 operational sorties, he said.

"I certainly want to express my full appreciation and the appreciation of our country to our NATO allies and to the many dedicated air crews that have helped to defend our country in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11," Rumsfeld said.

Seven NATO aircraft operated from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and patrolled U.S. skies. They shared the burden with the U.S. AWACS fleet, which was strained by operations in two theaters.

Multinational crews of up to 19 people, depending on the mission, provided radar coverage and surveillance operations for NORAD combat air patrols. AWACS planes feature high-tech airborne surveillance, command and control and communications systems.

NATO's response to the Sept. 11 attack demonstrated that the security alliance could deal with uncertainty and uncharted territory, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said at the Munich Conference on European Security Policy in February.

"This alliance," he said, "has proven itself a flexible instrument, adapting even as the challenges change dramatically."

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