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Defence Minister visits Czech soldiers in Iraq

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Balad, Iraq, Nov 23 (CTK special correspondent) – Defence Minister Martin Stropnicky (ANO) has visited Czech soldiers helping pilots of the L-159 combat aircraft in Iraq this week when he opened a new Czech camp built at the Balad air base and met supreme representative of the Iraqi military.
Stropnicky arrived in Iraq on Tuesday and he left this afternoon.
The 30-member Czech team in Iraq is to support Iraqi pilots who are flying the Czech-made L-159s in the fighting with extremists from Islamic State.
Iraq bought 15 L-159s via the Aero Vodochody firm from the Czech military reserves. One plane was modified into a two-seat training version.
At present, the Iraqi military has six L-159s that are deployed in the fights against Islamist radicals.
Four Iraqi pilots who were trained in the Czech Republic will be joined by another four who will soon finish their Czech training.
“They received an elementary portion of knowledge for the basic operation of the aircraft. However, a comprehensive logistic system must be built to be able to operate the planes in the long run,” unit commander Zdenek P. told CTK.
The Czech team in Iraq includes pilots, ground personnel as well as military police, who secure the unit’s protection, and logistics experts.
After a long time this is a mission that the Czech military secures completely alone. In other missions, it uses support of the allies.
A part of the Czech unit arrived in Iraq in June, while the official mission started in early August. A new group will replace them at the beginning of December.
Stropnicky thanked the soldiers for their commitment.
At the beginning of his visit, Stropnicky unveiled a plaque with a new name of the base. Soldiers have dubbed it “The Sovina Camp” in memory of pilot Ondrej Sovina of the 212nd squadron who tragically died when flying an L-159 four years ago.
“We are an aviation advisory team whose task is to help the Iraqi air force put the L-159s into operation… Moreover, most of the contingent is comprised of members of this squadron or at least of those from the 21st air base in Caslav (central Bohemia),” Zdenek P. said, commenting on the camp’s name.
Apart from the aviation advisory team, the Czech government will send a surgical team to Iraq soon. It will treat the injured allied soldiers near Mosul where heavy fighting is underway.
The Czech healthcare workers should stay in Iraq for six months. If need be, another unit will be deployed there.
Next year, the military might send military instructors to help the Iraqi army. They will train Iraqi soldiers to remove the improvised explosive devices (IED) left over by the retreating extremists.
The Czech Republic has also supported the Iraqi and Kurdish armed forces with weapons and ammunition for dozens of millions of crowns.
($1=25.474 crowns)

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