2020.01.08 13:50

Lithuanian troops left Iraq base seven hours before attack, BNS2020.01.08 13:50

Six Lithuanian troops serve in Al Assad airbase in Iraq that was struck by Iran, according to Major General Gintautas Zenkevčius of the Lithuanian military. The soldiers left the base together with other coalition troops on Tuesday, at 17:30 Lithuanian time, in anticipation of possible attacks.

“The most important issue at the moment is the safety of the troops, both Lithuanian and of the allies. We are doing everything to ensure maximum safety,” Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis told reporters on Wednesday.

He noted that the NATO council already decided on January 6 to stop the military training mission in Iraq where Lithuanian troops also participated.

“However, it would be possible to return to the mission objectives once the situation improved. Lithuania is not proposing to unilaterally withdraw troops from Iraq, at least not the Ministry [of Defence] or the military,” Karoblis said.

The Lithuanian and allied troops were unhurt during the attack and returned on Wednesday morning, Zenkevičius said. Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis said that based on preliminary information, no allied troops were killed or injured during the attack.

Zenkevičius said the Lithuanian troops have the possibility to be in constant contact with their families and are also in contact with the Defence Staff. None of the troops have asked to return to Lithuania amid the escalation in tension the general said.

Read more: Baltic states mull withdrawing military personnel from Iraq

Jonas Vytautas Žukas, the former Lithuania's chief of defence and now an adviser to President Gitanas Nausėda, said Lithuania will not take unilateral action.

"We are considering [troop withdrawal], but we are part of an international mission. So it will depend on what our allies decide. We cannot decide ourselves to leave when other countries continue their mission," the chief presidential advisor on national security told journalists at the parliament on Wednesday.

"Everything will depend on the decision made at the top level," he added.

Iran launched missile strikes on January 8 against two US bases in Iraq in retaliation to the US killing of General Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad earlier this month. In response, the Iraqi parliament voted to end foreign troop presence in the country. Lithuania and other Western states have now halted all military training missions in Iraq.

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