EDF lieutenant colonel: Foreign operations have strengthened EDF

Lt. Col. Eero Kinnunen being interviewed by ERR's Toomas Sildam on Wednesday's edition of
Lt. Col. Eero Kinnunen being interviewed by ERR's Toomas Sildam on Wednesday's edition of "Otse uudistemajast": Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) have been boosted by its involvement in international operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, according to high-ranking officer Lt. Col. Eero Kinnunen.

Lt. Col. Kinnunen, who has been with the EDF on three overseas missions Estonia has been involved in – in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan – also said that veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan might also be recognized in some way. He also expressed skepticism over the future of peace in that country, just days after the U.S. and the Taliban inked a deal nominally ending nearly 20 years of conflict.

"[Afghanistan and other international involvement] has left its mark on the EDF's development strongly, with progress in terms of equipment, technology and know-how," Lt. Col. Kinnunen said on ERR's current affairs interview show "Otse uudistemajast" on Wednesday.

"Without [these] missions, our defense forces would certainly be worse of in experience," he added.

"In addition to that, we have gained great respect from our allies," he went on.

Those traumatized by all and any Afghanistan conflicts in need of support

Lt. Col. Kinnunen served both with Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and with the EDF in 2007-2008, and said that traumatic memories will continue to haunt him, as they do other veterans.

"A soldier may be wounded in a war without this being physically visible. The lid can definitely be blown," he said.

"Together with veterans of other actions, we have set up an NGO aimed at providing support to veterans. There are successes, but there are also failures," he continued, adding that the community has very good cooperation with the EDF support center.

"Not everyone wants to ask for help; some are headstrong, and even if you try to help, they sometimes still slip up or get out of their depth," Kinnunen noted. 

Those who are severely injured, however, have better contacts and follow-up, and batter health care, he added. 

"They might be stronger than regular veterans," Lt. Col. Kinnunen added, agreeing with host Toomas Sildam's suggestion that Afghanistan veterans from the Soviet war be recognized.

Time to recognize Estonian veterans of Soviet-Afghan war, as well as later conflict as independent nation

"I certainly think that might be a good thing. If veterans of our current missions are this in a national sense, the state might recognize [Soviet-era veterans] in the same way. After all, those who fought in World War II are recognized," he said.

As to statements made by Jüri Ratas' previous administration, equating those press ganged into fighting the 1986 fire at the Chernobyl power station and seeking compensation as a result, with Afghanistan veterans of the 1980s, the EDF officer said this was not accurate.

"I can't say such people exist. We don't want money or compensation, we just want recognition," he said, suggesting that recent events marking the 30th anniversary of the end of the war (in 1989; the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the war was also marked at the end of 2019-ed.) had been tinged with political trappings which put a serving officer in the EDF attending off the table.

"With last year's 30th anniversary of Soviet troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan, a large veterans' event was organized at the Russian Cultural Center, funded by the Russian Embassy, with an address by the Russian ambassador. How could I go there?" Lt. Col. Kinnunen inquired.

Skeptical of Afghanistan's future

Lieutenant Colonel Kinnunen also said he was skeptical that Afghanistan would return to normal following the U.S.-Taliban deal signed earlier this week.

"We live in the modern world, there are rules for us. But there are no rules for the Taliban soldier. We may think they will agree, but tomorrow anything can happen. I do not think the Taliban leadership is very supportive of the deal. I don't know what every unit leader in some corner somewhere thinks," he said.

On plans to free 5,000 Taliban fighters held in prison by the Afghan government, Kinnunen said this could cause issues.

"If 5,000 fighters are freed, that would be plenty for such a vast nation. Will it simply tilt the balance of power, with now 5,000 people who only think of revenge …" he queried.

Ethnic groups living in northern Afghanistan - Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmens and others may be able to live side-by-side, but they cannot coexist well with the Taliban and the Pashtuns in the south and east of the country, he said.

"Half the country has been destroyed - let's break it into two, and our own Kandahar kingdom is made," he said, making a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Gandhara Kingdom referenced in the Indian Mahabharata epic.

Readers with Estonian can see the original "Otse uudistemajast" broadcast here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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