'True Warriors'

Back: returning from Afghanistan in November 2009, an Estcoy E soldier gets a taste of "normal" life again Photo: Postimees/Scanpix
3/18/2011 10:20 AM
Category: Politics

Toby Harnden's "Dead Men Risen: The Welsh Guards and the Real Story of Britain's War in Afghanistan" was published on March 17. Media had reported that the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) and military tried to stop the publication of the book, citing fears that it may have prompted Estonia to pull out of the conflict. The Estonian side said its issue was with descriptions involving sensitive personal data.

Now that the book has been published, ERR News reveals content which might have been considered sensitive in Estonia.

Toby Harnden told ERR News that despite the 493 separate questions, suggestions or requests for changes to be made, "the vast majority of the parts about the Estonians remain in there unaltered despite MoD requests for very extensive changes."

While some of this text may have been quoted or alluded to in other media, we felt readers would benefit by seeing the original text and forming their own opinion. In that spirit, we present it here. Text quoted with express written permission of the author.

On lack of resources

Having worked closely with the Americans in Iraq, the Estonians were puzzled by the lack of resources in a British battle group, but eventually accepted that items like grenade machine guns were so scarce among the other companies that none could be lent. [Lt. Col. Rupert] Thorneloe patrolled with the Estonians and admired their fighting spirit.

On Estonia's fighting history

Theirs was a martial culture forged through the domination of the big powers. The grandfathers of some of the troops had been members of the Waffen SS during the occupation of Estonia by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944. A few members of A Company had fought in the Soviet army in Afghanistan following the Russian invasion of 1979. Now they found themselves alongside Afghan soldiers who had fought against them in the Mujaheddin.

On Estonian soldiers as gung-ho

When the Estonians arrived at PB Pimon in mid-May, they were so eager to get into action that they had refused a familiarisation patrol with Lieutenant Dave Harris’s 2 Platoon. Instead, they wanted to mount a night mission into Zorabad immediately. Captain Alex Bourne, the Battle Group liaison officer, warned Major Tarvo Luga, of A Company, that this would be suicidal, but he would not budge. Bourne was reduced to stopping the mission by arranging for his corporal to interrupt him talking to Luga with a bogus report that Patrol Minimise (a ban on patrols going out because there were no medical helicopters available) was in force.

On graphic descriptions

The next day, an Estonian patrol did go out into Zorabad. Within 15 minutes, Lance Corporal Toomas Mikk had been shot five times in the head, abdomen, legs and arm with an RPK machine gun. ‘They’d just crashed out of the gate, the Estonian second-in-command wasn’t in the ops room because he was manning a machine gun in a sangar and it all started to go to rat shit,’ recalls Bourne. ‘That was the big wake-up call. I remember the young bayonets coming back in and they had a look of complete shock and horror and I suspect a certain amount of guilt. From that moment on they were very cautious and totally professional.’ Mikk was treated at Selly Oak before being flown back to Estonia. Miraculously, he survived.

On suicide

In August 2010, the body of Sergeant Aare Viirmaa, the member of Tikko’s section who had lost both his legs to an IED two months before Salmus and Kang were killed, was found at his home in Estonia. The local prosecutor treated the case as a suicide. […] Sergeant Aare Viirmaa of the Estonian Army was the first member of the Battle Group to kill himself, nearly 15 months after his legs had been blown off. No one believed he would be the last.

And true praise for the Estonians

…In the main, however, the Estonians were remarkably stoic and continued driving around in the lightly-armoured Pasis. Bourne says that Thorneloe admired the straightforwardness of the Estonians.

When he gave [Major] Tarvo Luga something to do, Tarvo would say: 'I can do that, that and that but I can’t do that – and this is why.' Colonel Rupert would say: “Fine.” It was quite a lot easier than, dare I say it, dealing with British company commanders who are fighting for their reports and competing with their fellow company commanders in the battalion. They don’t let their commanding officer know as much as they perhaps should do because they don’t want to be seen as the weak link.’

Thorneloe had come to regard his Estonian company with particular affection. […] The Estonian A Company, which had taken over from B Company in May, were true warriors.

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