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Turkish F-16s, troops join NATO air policing mission

A Turkish air force F-16 fighter jet is pictured in final approach to Malbork Air Base, Poland, where 4 of the aircraft will be supporting NATO's enhanced Air Policing mission in the Baltic region until mid-September. Photo by 22nd Air Base Malbork/NATO
A Turkish air force F-16 fighter jet is pictured in final approach to Malbork Air Base, Poland, where 4 of the aircraft will be supporting NATO's enhanced Air Policing mission in the Baltic region until mid-September. Photo by 22nd Air Base Malbork/NATO

July 7 (UPI) -- Four F-16 fighter planes of Turkey's air force, and a detachment of 80 troops, are in Poland to assist in NATO air policing duties, NATO announced.

They arrived at Malbork air base, in northern Poland, on Tuesday for a 10-week assignment with Poland's air force and other deployed forces in support of NATO's air policing mission in its eastern region.

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The current presence of a Spanish air force detachment in Lithuania and an Italian air force detachment in Estonia, is meant to "facilitate Allied cooperation and interoperability, reassuring NATO Allies on the eastern border of NATO," NATO said Tuesday in a press release.

The air policing mission was established in 2004, and enlarged in 2014, to guard the airspace over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, each a Baltic state and NATO member which shares a border with Russia.

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Turkey last participated in the rotation in 2006, stationing troops and four F-16s in Siauliai, Lithuania.

The deployment is the latest example of Turkish visibility and involvement within NATO.

Turkey currently leads the bloc's Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, a quick-deployment unit of 6,400 personnel.

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The task force places soldiers on standby status, ready to deploy, and rotates annually among NATO members.

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Approximately 4,200 troops of Turkey's 66th Mechanized Infantry Brigade Command, and about 2,200 more from 11 other NATO countries, serve in the unit.

In May 2021, the defense ministers of Poland and Turkey met to discuss "military cooperation, both bilateral and within the framework of NATO" and "matters related to further strengthening the security of NATO's southern flank region," a statement from the Polish government said.

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The meeting followed the arrival in April of 80 Polish troops in Turkey to conduct maritime aviation patrols over the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea with Polish M28 "Bryza" aircraft.

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