March 31, 2015 / 2:38 PM / 2 years ago

U.S. fighter jets to join exercises over Bulgaria

SOFIA (Reuters) - A dozen United States Air Force fighter jets will join military drills in Bulgaria in the next three months, a defense ministry official said on Tuesday, amid increased tensions with Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

The deployment is part of the U.S. military's Operation Atlantic Resolve, aimed at demonstrating its commitment to NATO allies in light of Russia's policy toward Ukraine. Moscow sees such drills in eastern Europe as provocative acts.

Some 350 U.S. army officers are taking part in the drills, conducted at the Novo Selo training range in southeastern Bulgaria. The exercises also involve U.S. armored personnel carriers, helicopters and tanks.

"Up to 12 U.S. F-15 jets will take part and they will arrive in Bulgaria after April 10," a defense ministry official told Reuters. The exercises will run from April 10 to June 30.

The jets are equipped with advanced air-to-air radar and sniper targeting equipment allowing long-range visual tracking.

Bulgaria and other ex-communist countries in eastern Europe that are now inside NATO and the European Union have been rattled by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

A close ally of Moscow in communist times, Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and is one of six eastern European countries due to host new command units staffed with national and NATO soldiers being set up in response to the Ukraine crisis.

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov and Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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