Prague, May 22 (CTK) – The first Czech soldiers will join the NATO eastern wing in the Baltic region in mid-June, Defence Minister Karla Slechtova (for ANO) said in an interview with CTK on Tuesday.

The soldiers will be part of the NATO units in Lithuania and Latvia. The mission was approved by the cabinet and the lower house already in 2017.

The Defence Ministry is currently looking to extend it by 2020 within its defence plan for the next years.

The Czech military presence abroad has been a point of controversy between the emerging coalition of the ANO movement and Social Democrats (CSSD) on one side and the Communists (KSCM) who should support the new cabinet on the other side. The Communists are against the Czech membership of NATO and they oppose reinforcement of the foreign missions.

A mechanised company of 250 soldiers will depart from the Czech Republic for the battlegroup led by Germany in Lithuania. A mortar company of 40 soldiers will be sent to the Canadian unit in Latvia.

In the past few weeks, the cabinet and the Senate have approved of the Czech military missions for the next two years. The plan reckons with the current missions, while increasing the number of soldiers in the missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Mali.

Next year, an air force unit with Gripen fighters should begin patrolling the airspace over the Baltics. The Defence Ministry also proposes to extend the mission in NATO in the Baltics.