Gallery: French military chief decorates Estonian Mali veterans ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

French Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Francois Lecointre was in Estonia Wednesday and Thursday, meeting Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) commander Maj. Gen. Martin Herem and decorating EDF personnel deployed to the West African nation of Mali.

"The new military relations between Estonia and France are becoming stronger and tighter both in terms of the exchange of information on strategic issues and, above all, through military operations. It is a great honor for the French that we can take your participation into account," Gen. Lecointre said of the meeting.

Gen. Lecointre added that through these ties, we are consolidating the idea of a strong Europe, which is able to cooperate with NATO and the EU, in order to secure our safety.

Gen. Lecointre received an overview of the security situation in the region and a situation report on the EDF.

"There is strong cooperation and alliance between Estonia and France. The basis for that has been created by the contribution of the Estonian units to the operations in Mali led by France. France is supporting us with its units in the NATO battle group. We have a similar understanding of the possible threats and similar solutions," Maj. Gen. Herem said.

The EDF personnel had been in Mali when their base in the city of Gao was attacked last July. Six EDF members were injured in the attack, carried out by suicide bombers.

At a ceremony at EDF HQ, Gen. Lecointre presented the Vaprus (bravery) Merit Cross for military service to 15 EDF members.

Gen. Lecointre also met with French air force personnel based at Ämari air base, engaged in NATO Baltic air policing duties. The French contingent is leaving soon, to be replaced by a German one whose rotation, at eight months, is longer in duration than average.

Estonia is contributing to the French counter-insurgency Operation Barkhane, principally with an infantry platoon.

The operation aims to support the fight against Islamic extremismin the five countries of the Sahel region (Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, as well as Mali itself) and thus to contribute to the fight against illegal immigration and human trafficking in Europe. Estonia is also contributing to Takuba, a special forces unit in Mali, which provides advice, assistance and training in the organization of operations within the Malian Armed Forces.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte

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