Italian army chief: Baltic air policing mission was “good experience” for pilots

Chief of Defence of Italy General Claudio Graziano

“It was a very good experience for our pilots because they had good training, the possibility to face real challenges, to get in touch and know the population sharing the same values. It was a good step forward for our armed forces,” the general said in an interview with BNS.

Stationed at the Lithuanian Air Force Base in Šiauliai, Italian fighter jets guarded the Baltic airspace from January until August.

According to Graziano, Italy was strongly in favour of the NATO Readiness Action Plan drafted in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Under the plan, NATO stepped up presence in Eastern Europe and created a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.

Asked by BNS about the Baltic states and Poland’s wish for allied troops permanently deployed in the region, the Italian general said that an internal NATO discussion on the matter is currently taking place, stressing that NATO, first, needs to make full use of the existing capabilities.

Graziano believes NATO should be getting ready to respond to challenges in both the East and the South, caused by the Islamic State’s actions in Iraq and Syria and the migration crisis.

The general hopes that the EU operation against human smugglers taking people across the Mediterranean Sea will be very effective.

Chief of Defence of Lithuania Lieutenant General Jonas Vytautas Žukas on Tuesday thanked the Italian counterpart for Italian troops’ participation in the NATO Baltic air policing mission, for sending an officer to the Lithuania-based NATO command centre and for Italy’s support to the Vilnius-based NATO Energy Security Center of Excellence.

Žukas also suggested that Italy should send an army unit of land troops to Lithuania for several months next year to take part in international NATO exercises organized by Lithuania.

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