Spanish Air Force takes over air policing duties at Amari

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In a ceremony held at Amari Air Base in Estonia at noon on Friday, Spanish pilots and personnel took over the duties of guarding the airspace of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from the air force of another NATO member Germany.

Speaking at the ceremony, Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas thanked the German 160-strong air force contingent for seeing to the security of Estonia and welcomed the Spanish personnel beginning their mission, spokespeople for the Estonian government said.

The prime minister said speaking to the German and Spanish troops in front of him that their presence in Estonia gives a very strong and clear message about the unity of NATO. "I thank you for your service and ensuring the security of the Estonian state. Estonia is protected better than ever before," he said.

The head of government described it as very important that allies would feel good in Estonia. For the sake of continued and increased presence of allies here Estonia will do everything for allied units to have all possibilities for training and cooperation with the defense forces in Estonia, he said.

The commander of the defense forces of Spain, Adm. Fernando Garcia Sanchez, said the bringing of four Spanish Eurofighter jets to Estonia shows the country's commitment to the Baltic air policing mission and taking the duties placed on it very seriously, spokespeople for the Estonian military said.

The commander of the Estonian defense forces, Maj. Gen. Riho Terras, thanked the Luftwaffe personnel who have ensured the security of the Baltic airspace with German excellence and precision. He then welcomed the Spanish air force members starting their four-month mission in Estonia.

In addition to the Estonian prime minister and the defense chiefs of Estonia and Spain the ceremony was attended by Estonia's Defense Minister Sven Mikser, Spanish Ambassador Fernando Garcia Casas, German Ambassador Christian Matthias Schlaga, representatives of allied and partner countries as well as air force personnel from Germany, Spain and Estonia.

The Spanish Air Force will perform the Baltic air policing mission out of Amari with four Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets until the end of April. The Spanish contingent is provided by the 11th Wing of the Spanish air force based at Moron Air Base near Seville.

The German contingent took up the air policing duties here at the beginning of September. After handing over their duties, the German airmen will head back to their home base in Bavaria.

The airspace of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is being guarded also by Portuguese and Canadian fighters stationed at Siauliai, Lithuania, and Dutch fighters stationed at Malbork, Poland. In January Polish and Italian fighters will take over the mission in Lithuania while the mission in Poland will be handed over to the air force of Belgium.

Previously Spain has provided aircraft and personnel for one rotation of the NATO Baltic air policing mission in 2006.