French defense chief visits Mali-based EDF personnel

Chief of the French Defence Staff Gen. Francois Lecointre visited an Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) unit in the West African country of Mali last week, to get acquainted with Estonians' activities, armaments, equipment and an Estonian-built Milrem robotic vehicle, ERR reports.

"I thank the Estonians for their presence in Mali. I know that your base was subjected to a terrorist attack in July, and this makes all the more important your contribution here," Gen. Lecointre said.

Major Raido Jõgi of the Estonian contingent gave Gen. Lecointre an overview of the mission of the Estonian unit, introduced weaponry used by the unit and their SISU XA-188 EST armored personnel carrier. 

Milrem Robotics representatives, present with the Estonian unit, demonstrated their unmanned land vehicle THeMIS, which Gen. Lecointre had a test operation of.

The Estonian unit is based in Gao, on the Niger River, which serves more than 1,500 troops from various countries as well as France and Estonia. The Estonian unit lives and serves under the same conditions as the French troops, ERR reports.

The EDF personnel are there as part of Estonia's support for Operation Barkhane, a French-led anti-terrorist operation covering five Sahel countries: Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, as well as Mali.

Operation Barkhane reportedly aims to create stability in the region as well as manage Europe-related issues such as terrorism and illegal immigration. 

In addition to Estonia, the U.K. supports the operation with transport helicopters, and a Spanish air force component is also present.

EDF infantry platoon ESTPLA-32 arrived in the country in August. Suicide bombers attacked the Gao base in late July, injuring six EDF troops. Thirteen French troops were killed in a helicopter crash in Mali last month.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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