15:51 Aug. 25, 2016
US, Bulgaria to conduct joint air patrols in NATO-led mission
U.S. fighter planes will conduct patrols with the Bulgarian air force next month, U.S. and Bulgarian officials said Wednesday, operations that are aimed at opening a new front in the NATO alliance's efforts to deter Russian military aggression.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has increased its existing air-policing efforts in the Baltic countries since Russia's annexation of Crimea, and some members of the Western military alliance have been pushing for more operations around the Black Sea region.
While the bulk of the alliance attention during its July summit was on a plan to deploy up to 4,000 troops to the Baltic countries, NATO also approved a training brigade for Romania, aimed at providing a measure of deterrence on its southeastern flank.
But bolstered NATO operations in Bulgaria have been controversial, with members of the government divided over how large a role the alliance should play in regional defense efforts. Bulgaria pulled out of a plan for joint alliance patrols in the Black Sea earlier this year, and the head of the Bulgarian air force resigned this month protesting the possibility of joint air policing with the U.S.
NATO officials said in an announcement that two U.S. F-15 jet fighters will fly alongside Bulgarian MiG 29s. U.S. Air Force officials said the F-15Cs would operate out of GrafIgnatievo Air Base in Bulgaria.