A ceremony at Tapa base, east of Tallinn, this week marked the official handover of the core of the British-led NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup to 5th Battalion the Rifles (5 Rifles).
The 5 Rifles are the first unit so far to make a return to the eFP, having already been on rotation in Tapa in the early days of the battlegroup, in 2017. They are replacing the outgoing First Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (First Fusiliers), an armored infantry unit who have been at Tapa since March.
"We are very grateful for the cooperation and assistance to our partners, thanks to whom the exchange of allied forces has been made as smooth as possible," eFP commander Col. Paul Clayton said of the event, via spokespersons.
Col. Clayton noted the extra considerations brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
"There is good long-term cooperation between the soldiers of the U.K. and Estonia, and we are very proud of our leading role in the allied battle group here in Estonia," Lt. Col. Jim Hadfield, 5 Rifles commander, said.
About 20 percent of the incoming 5 Rifles personnel are returnees, and so will be able to compare how much both the base and the town of Tapa have changed in the past three years.
Lt. Col. Chris Head, commander of the outgoing First Fusiliers, said that the six months spent in Estonia have offered both challenges and many valuable experiences.
"We have been able to maintain constant readiness, given the difficult situation in the world caused by the virus. Together with partners from the Royal Danish Army, we have grown into a stronger and more united battle group," he said, noting lessons learned and exercises undertaken could be shared by all, both the U.K. and Danish troops, and members of the regular Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) and the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit).
Britain's ambassador to Estonia Theresa Bubbear also met with the incoming and outgoing battalions.
Time to say goodbye and thank you to @ProudFusilier and congratulate @FirstFusiliers for a great tour in #Estonia. And to welcome Lt Col Hadfield and @5RIFLESOFFICIAL on their return to #eFP duties as Op #Cabrit comes full circle. Looking forward to the next chapter #WeAreNATO pic.twitter.com/RgLaiplE5v— Theresa Bubbear (@TBubbearFCDO) September 17, 2020
Tapa is home to around 1,000 British and Danish personnel at present. Past rotations have included soldiers from France and Belgium.
The eFP was founded following the 2016 Warsaw Summit, which in itself followed the 2014 annexation of the Crimea by the Russian Federation, and the ongoing insurgency warfare in eastern Ukraine. It is separate from the NATO Baltic Air Policing duties carried out by alliance air forces – currently Germany's – since Estonia joined NATO in 2004, and flying out of Ämari air base.
Editor: Andrew Whyte