On Friday, 31 March an official ceremony of replacement of contingents involved in the NATO leadership-sanctioned air-policing mission in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia is due to take place at the Lithuanian Air Force Base in Siauliai, during which the Turkish Air Force will officially take over the mission from the Polish Air Force.
The ceremony will be attended by Lithuanian Minister of National Defence Gediminas Kirkilas, Undersecretary of the Polish Ministry of National Defence Stanislaw Koziej, Commander of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, Major General Valdas Tutkus, representative from the Turkish Air Force, Brigadier General Nejdat Bilgin, commanders of the Air Forces of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Turkish military personnel will carry out the air-policing mission by four F-16 fighters, serviced by some 80 Turkish troops.
Turkey is due to start the new rotation of countries involved in the mission which is scheduled to be in force by the end of 2007. From now on the mission will cover four months. Upon completion of the mission, Turkish military personnel will be replaced by a Spanish contingent; thereafter the mission will be attended by Belgium, the military personnel of which were the first to start the air-policing mission over the Baltic States.
The NATO air policing mission in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia commenced on 29 March 2004 upon the countries’ accession to NATO. The mission has already been attended by detachments from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom and the US.