Estonia first nation invited by France to join Mali operations expansion

Regular EDF personnel in Mali, based in the eastern city of Gao.
Regular EDF personnel in Mali, based in the eastern city of Gao. Source: Taavi Karotamm/

Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) special forces personnel are to be a part of an expansion of the French-led counter-terrorist Operation Barkhane in the west African country of Mali.

Estonia already participates in Operation Bakhane, and it was the first nation invited by France to take part in the Task Force Takuba mission, a widening of current activity there, due to take place in the summer, ERR current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported Tuesday night.

While around 10 other countries are likely to join the Takuba operation, including Sweden, Norway and the Czech Republic, Estonia was the first to accept France's offer, and will be sending approximately 50 speical forces personnel.

As reported on ERR News, Minister of Defence Jüri Luik (Isamaa) reaffirmed Estonia's support for sending additional forces at a recent meeting with the President of the Republic of Mali, Ibrahim Boubakar Keita, in Bamako, that country's capital.

"Indeed, at the request of the French state, Estonia also decided that we would send a special forces unit there," Luik said on "Aktuaalne kaamera".

"On the one hand, the special forces unit will work to train local personnel, and on the other, it will also support them in every possible operation," he went on.

Defense Minister Jüri Luik also discussed the security and humanitarian situation in Mali with President Ibrahim Boubakar Keita. 

In addition to ethnic tensions in the country, both Al-Qaeda and ISIS cells are operating in Mali, and the situation there has recently become tense, according to the report.

"The Malian government is, in fact, very weak and is facing very strong forces, particularly considering that ISIS has been crushed in Syria, meaning a lot of terrorists are scattered and fleeing … Mali is one of those countries where terrorists hope to be sheltered," Luik added.

With 19 million inhabitants, the West African country is the largest foreign mission involving the EDF, where it operates on three fronts. Much of the focus is in the eastern city of Gao, where regular EDF infantry units are stationed on a rotational basis and engage in patrols and training.

"Both the UN, the EU Training Mission and Operation Barkhane have decided to approach things a little differently. This means not only training from a distance, but helping more and going along with the units on the ground, which should give these local units more confidence and courage," said Maj. Gen. Martin Herem, EDF commander.

Operation Barkhane is aimed at supporting not only the government of Mali, but also that of other Sahel nations including Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, in their fight against terrorism and also human trafficking and illegal immigration.

Estonia as noted is participating in three different operations in Mali. Staff officers and instructors from the EDF serve in addition as part of the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA, and with the European Union training mission EUTM Mali.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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