Iraq-bound Defense League final exercise postponed due to COVID-19 cases

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Members of Estonia's volunteer Defence League during an exercise. Image is illustrative Source: mil.ee

A final exercise in Estonia for members of the voluntary Defense League (Kaitseliit) due to deploy to Iraq has been postponed, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and rising rates, including cases recorded among Defense League members due to take part in the exercise.

The Defense League's general staff made the decision ahead of ESTGUARD4 personnel due to deploy to Iraq as part of NATO Mission Iraq (NMI), which aims to strengthen Iraqi security forces by providing technical advice to relevant Iraqi defense and security officials.

Defense League communications chief Maj. Tanel Rütman said the exercise, scheduled to start this weekend, has been put back two weeks for the time being.

Maj. Rütman said: "Part of the group has received positive COVID-19 test results; they and the rest of the group are quarantine, naturally."

The exercise will go ahead March 22-26 as things stand, in the same locations in Võru County: The areas in and surrounding the settlements of Varstu, Tsooru, Parksepa and Vastseliina, as well as Võru town itself, while Maj. Rütman said that overall preparations for the Iraq mission will not be affected by the incident.

The Defense League is volunteer-staffed and augments the regular Estonian Defense Forces (EDF). Its size is comparable with the EDF's (including reservists in the latter) and membership was recently reported at 25,500 (including its women's, girls' and boys' arms) though this likely includes "sleeping" members who are listed but do not attend training etc.

Both the Defense League and EDF have seen COVID-19 outbreaks in recent months.

The Defense League was also utlilized in the spring wave of COVID-19 last year, particularly on Saaremaa, staffing patrols and ensuring compliance with coronavirus regulations.

The postponed exercise will focus on patrolling, ERR reports.

NMI ESTGUARD4 is part of the NATO Mission in Iraq, which advises and supports Iraqi security forces. As such it is the successor of the NATO Training Mission-Iraq (NTM-I), which ran 2004-2011, and was established in October 2018.

Around 500 personnel from all countries take part , including instructors, advisers and support staff in both NATO and partner countries, such as (non-NATO members) Australia, Finland and Sweden.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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