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12 Aviano F-16s deploying to Poland amid Ukraine crisis

An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off at dawn during an exercise on Dec.17, 2013, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The Air Force will deploy 12 F-16s to Poland due to the continuing crisis over Ukraine.

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — The 12 F-16 fighter jets being deployed to Poland as the crisis in Ukraine continues to escalate will come from the 31st Fighter Wing in Aviano, officials said Thursday.

The Polish Defense Ministry announced the deployment Monday, but U.S. officials remained vague on which Air Force unit the contingent would come from.

The Aviano-based aircraft and 150 pilots and support personnel will spend an “indefinite” amount of time training with their Polish counterparts, according to 2nd Lt. Allie Delury, a public affairs officer with the wing.

The deployment comes at a time when tensions in eastern Europe are running high following the Russian military takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region. Last week, the U.S. sent six F-15C Eagles and more than 60 U.S. airmen from Britain to Lithuania to bolster NATO’s air policing mission over the Baltics. America’s NATO allies, which were under Russian domination during the Soviet era, requested the deployments, officials said.

Delury said the mission of the F-16 Fighting Falcons in Poland was strictly focused on training.

“This is something we do every year,” she said. But she acknowledged that U.S. forces hadn’t been scheduled to take part in the training at this time, but were responding to an altered timeline suggested by their Polish allies.

There is no time frame on how long the training might take place, Delury said.

news@stripes.com

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