NATO commander Europe: Alliance has proved its worth in Estonia
NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) says that the alliance's activities in Estonia have proven a highly successful commitment.
Speaking during a visit to Estonia, including Ämari air base, Gen. Tod Wolters, the U.S. commander of NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), said: "NATO's missions in the Baltic States have proved to be very successful, and we express our solidarity.
"Soldiers from various allied nations are serving shoulder to shoulder here, representing a tangible commitment to collective defense," he added.
Gen. Wolters met defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) and commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Lt. Gen. Martin Herem while in Estonia, and was provided with an overview of the security situation in Estonia and the Baltic States and the practicalities and progress of the Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroup at Tapa, as well as NATO air policing duties at Ämari (see gallery above).
He was also briefed on the EDF's contribution to the French-led counter-terrorism Operation Barkhane, which covers much of the Sahel region of Africa, with an EDF platoon and other personnel based in Gao, Mali.
Lt. Gen. Herem reciprocated with regard to NATO, which he said is on the right track in being committed to readiness, adequate plans and a clear chain of command.
Defense minister: Significant that U.S. special forces HQ now in Estonia
Kalle Laanet for his part said that the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) contingent at Ämari, nearing the end of a back-to-back rotation period, similarly gives a clear message to allies and others alike, and has been particularly active.
Laanet also met allied representatives on Tuesday, including the Command Element of the Baltic Region Special Operations Headquarters, which has been located in Estonia since January this year, following relocation from Stuttgart, Germany, according to a defense ministry press release.
Laanet said: "It is very important to us that U.S. European Command of the U.S. Special Operations Command Element for the Baltic region is located in Estonia, to better support the integration of allied special operations units and strengthen the security of the entire region."
The 10th Special Forces Group, from Fort Carson, Colorado, which has started service in Estonia, is an airborne unit consisting of special ops personnel from the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, and those of U.S. Allies throughout the region. Prior to its arrival in the Baltic region, the unit had served in Afghanistan, as part of Resolute Support.
Allies needed to keep an eye on the large-scale Zapad exercise taking place in western Russia later this year, Laanet added.
NATO SHAPE is headquartered in Mons, Belgium.
This article was updated to incorporate comments from defense minister Kalle Laanet.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte