Italy’s jets extend air police mission

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Italy, which is serving its first shift in NATO's Baltic air-policing mission, will leave its fighter-jets in Lithuania for longer than planned, while Belgium and Portugal will this year send its troops for training, Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas told newswire BNS Monday.

Olekas noted these among the issues discussed with counterparts at the Brussels meeting of NATO defense ministers.

NATO Allies usually serve one four-month shift in the Baltic air-policing mission, while Italy will stay in Lithuania for two shifts, said the Lithuanian minister.

"The Italian minister pledged that they will stay as mission support after their air-policing mission," Olekas told BNS.

Italian airmen with their four Eurofighter Typhoon fighter-jets came to the Lithuanian Air Force Aviation Base in Siauliai, northern Lithuania, in the last days of 2014 and were soon joined by Polish aviators with their four MiG-29 fighter-jets.

Italy's fighter-jet pilots scrambled again Monday to intercept a ‘coot’, which is NATO’s jargon for the Ilyushin IL-20 maritime surveillance aircraft, seen often among the planes intercepted at an increasing rate throughout the past year, Latvia’s National Armed Forces (NBS) tweeted Monday afternoon.

Countries of the Alliance started sending their fighter-jets and contingents to guard the Baltic skies after the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined NATO in March of 2004.

Prior to the Russian annexation of Crimea, the air-policing mission was carried out by four jets from Siauliai, while the mission in Lithuania was doubled last year, with fighter-jets also stationed in Estonia and Poland.

In Olekas' words, Belgian and Portuguese troops will also come to Lithuania for a longer training this year. US troops have been permanently stationed in the Baltic states since last year, and arrival of US military equipment is being coordinated.

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