Turkish F-16s deployed to Poland for NATO operations near Russian border

NATO announced that four Turkish F-16s fighter jets have flown from the 6th Main Jet Base (Bandirma Base Command) to Malbork, Poland as part of NATO’s permanent patrols conducted by rotating multinational combat aircraft.

Air policing as NATO delicately phrases it. Somehow one suspects that if Russia were to fly Sukhoi Su-57s continuously near the U.S. Atlantic seaboard or over the Great Lakes the Pentagon’s concerns would not be assuaged by being assured the deployments were merely a matter of policing.

The patrols began at the Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania immediately after the nation was inducted into NATO in 2004. A decade latter NATO also deployed them to the Ämari Air Base in Estonia. Now Poland has been added to the growing list of NATO bases in nations bordering Russia’s northwest.

NATO also has Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups in Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Latvia. The U.S. has an estimated 6,000 troops in the four nations attached to Operation Atlantic Resolve. The chief of staff of the Russian military, General Valery Gerasimov, recently stated there were 10,000 such troops near Russia’s borders.

In the region NATO also maintains radar installations, a cyber defense center (Estonia), counter intelligence center (Poland), energy security center (Lithuania), Joint Force Training Centre (Poland), military medicine center (Poland), military police center (Poland) and a strategic communications center (Estonia). Except for the Joint Force Training Centre, the centers are called centres of excellence by NATO. Innocuous enough name, like air policing. The Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence is used to spy on internet activity around the world.

Turkey’s deployment is only its second rotation for the NATO operation. The plane they’ve sent, the F-16, is the kind that shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M military aircraft over Syria in 2015. Perhaps they’ll get another chance.

Eighty Turkish service members will also be deployed to Poland. The F-16s will complement Italian warplanes in Estonia and Spanish fighter jets in Lithuania.

The Turkish deployment in some ways reciprocates Poland for NATO deploying Polish troops to Turkey in late April. The military bloc assigned the troops to Turkey as part of its six-year Tailored Assurance Measures for Turkey mission instituted to – as NATO described it – protect Turkey from Syria. That measure was taken after Turkey requested an Article 4 consultation with the other members of the bloc in 2015 (as it did again last year). The following year Turkey began direct military activities inside Syria after harboring, arming and training anti-government insurgents since 2011.

The alliance also pledged the use of its NATO Response Force and the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force as needed. On the first of this year Turkey assumed command of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.

It’s not clear if any of the above was in the mind of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov when he recently stated:

“Indeed, Turkey is a NATO nation but, concurrently, our relations with Turkey are an example showing that partner relations can and must be built even with NATO countries, in the person of Turkey.