USAFE alters base vehicle searches after breach
July 3, 2008
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — U.S. Air Forces in Europe changed commercial vehicle inspection procedures Wednesday, the day after two Afghans entered this base aboard a grocery truck.
The youths, now in the care of British social services, hid inside a compartment on the underside of the commissary-bound truck. Police did not know such a compartment existed before Tuesday’s incident.
USAFE issued a new vehicle inspection list on Wednesday to include such crawl spaces, said Tech. Sgt. Jill LaVoie, a spokeswoman for Lakenheath. USAFE officials would not elaborate on the change, citing force protection.
"Once we find [a vulnerability we immediately respond to it," LaVoie said. "So command-wide now we’ve made sure this is fixed."
The 48th Security Forces Squadron began inspecting inbound trucks for such compartments Tuesday immediately following the incident, which unfolded when the boys were spotted near the truck after it arrived at the commissary about 11 a.m.
They fled by the time authorities arrived, prompting police to search all outbound vehicles, sweep buildings and shut down the flight line until Ministry of Defence police from Lakenheath apprehended the youths on Eriswell Road, just outside the back gate, at about 12:30.
Police have yet to determine if the Afghans jumped the fence or simply walked out of the pedestrian gate, said LaVoie, adding that there was no evidence the boys tampered with anything while they were on base.
It was the second time in little more than a year that non-British foreign nationals illegally gained access to Lakenheath. In March 2007, eight Afghan men sneaked on base aboard a grocery truck.
That incident prompted the Defense Commissary Agency to cancel its contract with the trucking company involved and also prohibit soft-sided trucks from being used for deliveries in the U.K.
But DeCA officials on Tuesday defended Wagner Spedition, whose truck carried the youths Tuesday, saying there was no evidence the company or driver knew about the stowaways.
Lakenheath officials agreed.
"We just needed to change what we were doing at the gate," LaVoie said.
The Afghans involved in both cases were handed over to British immigration authorities and will likely never face charges by the military because they had no hostile intent and were likely unaware they were en route to a U.S. military installation, LaVoie said.
U.K. Border Agency authorities questioned the two youths Tuesday and then placed them in the custody of British social service agents, said Cubby Fox, a spokeswoman for the British Home Office.
There are a number of reasons and ways the Afghans came to England, said Boota Mondair, an immigration attorney in Peterborough and member of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association.
"If you look at the asylum structure in Britain and the European Convention of Human Rights, it’s common knowledge that they will get a fair hearing to determine if they can stay there," Mondair said Wednesday.
It’s likely that the Afghans made the journey from Southwest Asia to Europe via Turkey through an intricate and underground system of illegal travel, he said.
"Without a doubt there is certainly a network in existence," Mondair said.