Two F-16 Fighting Falcon multi-role fighter jets from Aviano Air Base, Italy, deployed to Croatia on Mar. 16, 2022 taking part in agile combat employment exercises and bolstering NATO’s southeastern flank, the US Air Force (USAF) announced.
In the night between Mar. 10 and Mar. 11 in fact an ‘unidentified flying object’ crashed in southern Zagreb. According to several photos appeared on the internet this might have been an old Tupolev Tu-141 Strizh (Swift) target drone launched by Ukraine. The drone entered NATO airspace over Hungary and then crashed in Croatia.
Croatian officials said the drone had a bomb, but they were not able to determine whether it was Russian or Ukrainian. The incident has led Croatian leaders to criticize NATO for a perceived slow response.
A subsequent press release from US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) stated that the fighters would deploy to Croatia’s 91st Air Base at Pleso, just outside the capital.
“Our enduring alliances and partnerships throughout the European and African theaters have enabled our multi-capable Airmen to execute our mission as a dynamic coalition force,” Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, USAFE-Air Forces Africa commander, said in a statement. “Directing our strategic capabilities from any number of forward locations builds a resilient force, ready to pivot and counter aggression anywhere at a moment’s notice.”
The F-16 deployment to Croatia is just the latest deployment of USAF aircraft to Easter Europe. In the lead-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, F-16s deployed to Romania, F-15s went to Poland, and F-35s landed in Germany. As the invasion first unfolded, F-35s from Germany were deployed to NATO’s eastern flank, including Romania. A B-52 also deployed to the region around the same time, as part of what USAFE called a “long-planned Bomber Task Force Europe mission over the Arctic and Baltic Sea regions.”
Although the US will not deploy forces into Ukraine to help them resist the Russian invasion, President Joe Biden has pledged to defend “every inch” of NATO territory. Croatia became a full NATO member in 2009.
Photo credit: VargaA Own work via Wikipedia
Top image: Two U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron from the 31st Fighter Wing, Aviano Air Base, Italy, fire up jets next to Croatian MiG-21 aircraft assigned to the 191st Fighter Squadron at Croatia’s 91st Air Base at Pleso, March 17, 2022. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Miquel Jordan.
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