Defence Minister: Estonian soldiers may return to Iraq
Estonia's ability to contribute to the fight against the Sunni extremist group IS was limited, but the country could send instructors of the Defence Forces to train local personnel, Defense Minister Hannes Hanso told Postimees.
So far the Estonian contribution consisted of weapons and ammunition provided to the armed forces of Iraq. Estonia is one of the countries in the anti-IS coalition that is planning to do more. Hanso told Postimees in Brussels on Thursday that Estonia could make a contribution in areas where it had the capability to, therefore there would be no point talking about air strikes. But a training mission was conceivable.
"A concrete thing we are currently working on together with the United States and Denmark is the possible sending of instructors to Iraq's Anbar province in the summer. We have received an official proposal from the Danish. We regard it as a necessary and sensible proposal," Hanso said.
Estonian soldiers got combat experience in Iraq for the first time when they were there in 2003, after previously only participating in peacekeeping missions. Estonia also participated in the NATO training mission in Iraq in 2005-2011.
For members of the Defence Forces to return to Iraq, technical issues have to be settled with the Iraqi government, the Defence Minister said. "It's very time-consuming and fraught with red tape," he told the paper, observing that it had also taken the Latvian military a long time to get an official invitation from Iraq's government.
The Estonian soldiers' training mission in Iraq requires a mandate from the Riigikogu. The question could be brought up after the Iraqi government gave its consent, Hanso said.
Asked how many instructors are they were planning to send to Iraq, Hanso said the number had not yet been decided, referring to ongoing missions and the commitment to contribute personnel to the NATO Response Force. "We're still discussing numbers, but it'll be fewer than ten in any case," he said.
The western province of Anbar, bordering Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia was one of the strongholds of IS militants who conquered large chunks of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014. The armed forces of Iraq have by now retaken several cities, including the provincial capital Ramadi in January.