ZAGREB, February 13, 2020 – NATO defence ministers, including Croatia’s Damir Krstičević, in Brussels on Thursday reaffirmed their support for Iraq and strengthening NATO’s mission to train Iraqi forces, in which Croatia will continue to take part.
Krstičević said that Croatia has seven soldiers in the mission, two of whom have already returned home while the remaining five will gradually return to Iraq from Kuwait.
After the conflict in Iraq escalated at the start of the year, following America’s attack and the death of the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Qasem Soleimani, Croatia withdrew its troops to Kuwait.
“It was agreed that everything will return to the starting position as of 4 January which means that NATO’s mission in Iraq will continue. A document arrived last night from the Iraqi government which supports and guarantees the safety of NATO personnel, hence a decision has been made for soldiers to gradually return,” said Krstičević.
At the two-day meeting in Brussels, which ended on Thursday, the NATO defence ministers addressed key issues, including the alliance’s training mission in Iraq and the fight against international terrorism.
Croatia is currently participating with 438 troops in seven NATO peace missions and two Enhanced Forward Presence missions.
Krstičević underscored EU-NATO cooperation and announced a conference to be held in Split, Croatia on 9 June aimed at strengthening that cooperation, adding that senior officials from the EU and USA would be participating in the conference.
The ministers also discussed the Exercise DEFENDER-Europe 20, the largest European-US military exercise in the past 25 years. The exercise will involve the deployment of a division-size combat-credible force from the United States to Europe, with 37,000 troops expected to participate.
“American soldiers will leave from four European ports and be distributed to six countries to test the mobility of equipment and troops…Croatia will participate with its troops stationed in Poland and Lithuania,” said Krstičević.
Krstičević held bilateral meetings with his Polish and Lithuanian counterparts, Mariusz Blaszczak and Raimundas Karoblis respectively. Krstičević said that he was pleased Minister Blaszczak confirmed that he would attend the first international CROIMAS air show that will be held in Zadar on 30 May, marking the 30th anniversary of Croatia’s statehood.
So far, we have received confirmation from the French, Italians, Austrians, Swiss and Poles that they will be attending, he added.
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