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31 Jul, 2015 08:44

US marines flying with unlicensed arms to Ukraine detained in Vienna, sent home

Nine American marines have been arrested in Vienna’s airport for carrying assault rifles and handguns on board a commercial airliner without proper clearance. They were on their way to Ukraine to take part in Exercise Saber Guardian that began July 20.

The incident took place on July 19, but was only reported to the media a fortnight later.

The servicemen, traveling from Alaska, reportedly had problems with a connecting flight at Vienna’s Schwechat Airport and had to leave the transit area to rebook, Austrian Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Michael Bauer said. They were traveling on commercial flights.

While they were having their luggage scanned, airport security spotted M16 assault rifles and pistols in their travel bags. The servicemen had no permits allowing them to carry arms.

READ MORE: US military instructors in Ukraine undermine Minsk peace deal – Moscow

Austrian police arrested the marines, who were then expelled from the country along with their weapons on a return flight bound for Washington.

The incident took place accidentally, US European Command spokesperson David Westover told Sputnik.

“By unintentional oversight, the necessary clearances required for transiting Austria were not properly processed prior to their departure. The Austrian authorities were very helpful in resolving this issue,” spokesman said, adding that the marines have since returned to their home duty station in Alaska.

“US European Command and the US Embassy in Vienna are grateful for the support of the Austrian Government to coordinate the onward movement of nine US marines last week,” Westover said.

READ MORE: US deploying 250 military vehicles 'incl. Abrams tanks' near Russian border

Karen Kwiatkowski, a retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, told RT that the soldiers had not declared them on purpose.

The fact that the US State Department attempted to get permits retrospectively immediately after the incident indicates that “this is not how it is supposed to be done,” Kwiatkowski said.

A passenger on US domestic flights has to declare any weapons in his luggage, she pointed out, so the soldiers “probably did not declare [weapons] on purpose, thinking they could get away with it,” because they needed their weapons and could “get in trouble” if they arrived in Ukraine without arms, Kwiatkowski said.

She said that, alternatively, “they figured that they will be refused and would not be able to get there anyway.”

Kwiatkowski added: “Technically, this is a violation of not just the airline policy but international law.”

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said earlier in July that the international military exercises Saber Guardian/Rapid Trident-2015 the US soldiers were going to take part in began July 20 and were planned to last through July 31.

They are the biggest military war games to be held in Ukraine in 2015, with over 1,800 troops from 18 countries participating.

READ MORE: 1,800 troops from 18 states: NATO launches biggest ever drill in Ukrain

The drills are being held at the Yavoriv training center, Europe’s largest of its kind, in Ukraine’s Lvov Region, near the border with Poland.

Moscow has repeatedly warned NATO that the series of military drills in Ukraine could undermine the fragile peace agreement between Kiev and the rebels in the southeast of the country.

Despite Kiev’s efforts to provide its troops with US-made lethal weapons, Washington has denied the requests, instead providing Kiev with non-lethal supplies and armored vehicles.