This week, the Ministry of Defence’s proposal passed its second reading in Riigikogu, which approved plans for Estonia to participate in international military operations next year, with up to 175 servicemen on international military operations and nearly 300 servicemen in readiness units. Estonia is now ready to send a force protection unit to Iraq, composed of volunteers from the Estonian Defence League.
‘Estonia is a reliable ally who has participated on international military operations for 25 years. Our successful participation on operations has become a trademark for our country. What makes next year special is that we are ready to send members of the Defence League to Iraq. On the one hand, such a move will allow for strengthening allied relations, on the other hand it will provide an opportunity for the Defence League to gain experience from an international military operation’, said Minister of Defence Jüri Luik.
Earlier this year, Denmark – which will serve as the lead country for NATO’s training mission starting next year – appealed to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to participate in a combat mission in Iraq with a force protection unit. The unit is tasked with defending and providing security to NATO’s training mission in Baghdad. The planned service by members of the Defence League in Iraq will run from June 2021 to December. Consisting of 40-members, the Defence League platoon will being in pre-deployment training in December.
The Estonian Defence League is part of the Estonian National Defence organisation, but is composed of volunteers who are not full time soldiers.
In the past, Defence League units participated in the European Union-led peacekeeping operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2005, and from 2007–2010 in the NATO-led peacekeeping operation in Kosovo (Kosovo Force, KFOR).
Estonia will continue participating with a platoon-sized unit next year in the French led Operation Barkhane, in Mali, and with a Special Forces taskforce in Takuba; in addition, Estonian staff officers will participate in the United Nations peacekeeping mission and the European Union Training Mission. Stability in the Sahel region of Africa plays an important role in enhancing European security, in particular in the fight against terrorism. In 2021, France will participate in a 12-month rotation with the British-led NATO battlegroup based at Tapa, Estonia.
Up to 46 Estonian servicemen are taking part in the NATO-led Resolute Support training and advisory mission in Afghanistan. The aim of the NATO mission is to advise and prepare Afghan security forces, in order to support them in the fight against terrorism. Estonia is closely monitoring Afghanistan’s internal peace process and is following the principle that Allied Forces went to Afghanistan together and will leave together.
Estonia plans to continue with up to 10 servicemen in the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve, in Iraq. The size of the mandate issued by the Riigikogu offers the possibility of increasing participation, if necessary, in order to support Estonia’s strategic partner, the United States. Earlier, Riigikogu gave its mandate for the participation of servicemen in the US-led international operation Sentinel, in Bahrain. By participating in the operation, Estonia contributes to the stability and security of the Middle East region. Diplomatic negotiations are currently underway with Bahrain to participate in the operation.
In addition, a total of up to 200 troops are scheduled to take part in NATO Readiness Initiative (NRI) activities next year, which will include an armoured infantry company and a support element, as well as up to 70 troops in the NATO Response Force (NRF), which will include a special operations unit, staff officers and a mine hunter team, as well as up to 24 troops in the operations of the UK’s Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF). Since these are readiness units, during this period they will be located in Estonia.
Regarding other operations, Estonia will continue in large part to the same extent. All in all, Estonia will contribute to the operations of the United Nations (UNIFIL in Lebanon, UNTSO in the Middle East, and MINUSMA in Mali), NATO (Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, NMI in Iraq), the European Union (EUTM Mali, EUNAVFOR Med/Irini in the Mediterranean) and the US-led military operations Inherent Resolve and Sentinel, and France’s counter-terrorism operation, Barkhane in Mali.
As in previous years, the government was given a mandate to rapidly deploy up to 50 troops to NATO or its member states’, the EU’s or UN’s operations if needed.
Additional information: press[at]kaitseministeerium[dot]ee