United States special forces are in Estonia currently, engaging in joint exercises with the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) and the volunteer Estonian Defense League (Kaitseliit), ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Friday evening.
Defense minister Jüri Luik (Isamaa) said: "The men are here to get acquainted with the local conditions, and to carry out exercises with our special forces."
One of the focal points of the exercise is the presence of a Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL)/short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft.
Jüri Luik also said via a defense ministry pres release that:"I am glad to see the long-term and close cooperation between Estonian and US operators. The continuing presence of US Special Forces in Estonia is a strong sign of the US' commitment and readiness to defend NATO and Estonia but also of our good bilateral relations."
Defense minister: U.S. unit a strategic level capability
The minister also stressed that the U.S. unit is a strategic level capability, which specializes in operations under the U.S. Special Operations Command Europe (SCOEUR).
The U.S. Air Force special forces' leader told AK that: "The group that's here now is going to be here until mid-December. The tasking that we have from the 352nd Special Operations Wing is to bring the aircraft forward, out with our NATO partners, to have a longer amount of time to integrate, operate and train with our NATO partners, in this case in the Baltics."
DefMin Luik met with @USArmyEURAF Special Forces today from the 352nd Special Operations Wing operating in Estonia. "Great to see such close cooperation between Estonian and US Special Forces enhancing our interoperability and readiness" said Luik #ESTSOF #352SOW #AlliedStrong pic.twitter.com/pUNfKk3g5r— MoD Estonia (@MoD_Estonia) November 27, 2020
The head of the U.S. Air Force's Special Operations Wing also said they highly appreciated the cooperation with Estonian personnel and the professionalism of Estonia's armed forces.
"Our cooperation with the Estonian operators is impeccable, we can trust them even under the harshest conditions," the commander said via a press release, adding that serving in Estonia grants an opportunity to train in a different environment, adding they regularly identify new training opportunities here.
Joint exercises with Swedish air force
Defense Minister Luik also noted that the regular training between U.S. and Estonian operators increases the country's deterrence capability, providing an opportunity to train with top-level allied soldiers and enhancing Estonia's interoperability in responding to various threats.
The U.S. personnel have been taking part in joint exercises with Sweden's air force (Sweden is not a NATO member - ed.), culminating in activities in Estonia at the EDF's central polygon training area in Harju County.
In addition to the Osprey, a U.S. MC-130J Commando II transport plane was also involved in the exercises. Both planes will be active in Estonian airspace through to mid-December.
U.S. jets based in the U.K. have also been involved, though conditions were not good enough to hold a planned bombing run, Maj. Tanel Rattiste, commander of the EDF's tactical air support unit, told AK.
U.S. unit here to mid-December
EDF personnel came from the 1st Brigade's intelligence company, in addition to the Defense League, with activities included the transport of personnel and materiel. The aircraft have also touched down in Saaremaa during the course of the exercise.
The personnel from the U.S. Air Force 352nd Special Operations Wing will remain in Estonia until mid December, following the completion of the joint exercise with Swedish forces.
The temporary deployment of US Special Operations Forces (SOF) to Estonia is part of a routine procedure, whereby joint training is conducted with different allies, the defense ministry says, and since 2014, a U.S. SOF unit has been based in Estonia, sparked by Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine and the illegal annexation of the Crimean region.
In addition to these personnel, a NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup has been based in Estonia since 2017, following the 2016 Warsaw Summit, consisting of forces from the U.K., France and Denmark alongside plus a specialist from NATO member state Iceland, based at the allied forces command in Tallinn.
U.S. SCOEUR is a unified command subordinate to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and includes personnel from the 10th Special Forces Group and the 352nd Special Operations Wing, the latter based at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England.
The AK slot (in Estonian) is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte