Estonian, British defense ministers discuss troop removal from Afghanistan

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Recent rotation handover ceremony at Tapa base, home of the U.K.-led NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup. Source: Oliver Turp

Defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) has doubled down on Estonia's view of the United Kingdom as one of the country's most significant NATO allies, in the light of both countries' pending withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Speaking after a phone meeting with his U.K. opposite number Ben Wallace Thursday, Laanet said that: "It is essential for Estonia that the removal of troops from Afghanistan would happen in close cooperation with our closest allies and considering the security situation on the ground"

"The U.K. is one of our most important allies, with whom our defense forces personnel have served shoulder to shoulder in the more complex regions of Afghanistan," Laanet went on, BNS reports.

U.S. President Joe Biden's recent announcement that his country would be withdrawing from Afghanistan this year after two decades was followed by announcements that this was likely to be a pan-NATO action rather than U.S.-only.

While Biden initially put the withdrawal date for September, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center – the event that prompted the original invasion – this has since been brought back to May, just weeks from now and the same date that Biden's predecessor Donald Trump had earmarked, albeit from a largely U.S.-only perspective.

"The time of joint service has cemented our defense cooperation, and we place very great value in United Kingdom's contribution to the security of our region and the unity of NATO. The participation of the U.K. as the lead nation in the allied battlegroup at Tapa and activity on the Baltic air policing mission are the best proof of good cooperation," Laanet went on.

Laanet had also consulted with Germany, whose air force currently holds the air policing role out of Ämari air base.

While the invasion of Afghanistan was originally tasked with flushing out terrorists backed and supported by the Taliban, it has continued to focus on state-building in that country.

Not everyone on the U.S.-side has been keen on the pace of withdrawal, however; Sentate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called it reckless.

Kalle Laanet's predecessor, Jüri Luik (Isamaa) has called Estonia's endeavors in Afghanistan – which has cost nine defense forces' lives – one of its most successful.

Laanet and Wallace also discussed the situation on Ukraine's borders given the concentration of Russian Federation forces at present, and Russia's planned, annual Zapad ("West") mass military exercise this fall.

"It is very important that the allies keep a very close eye on the activities of Russia on the borders of  Ukraine, and also on the pending military exercise," Laanet said.

A U.K. foreign and security policy paper, cooperation in the U.K.-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), cyber defense and NATO as a whole were also on the table at Thursday's meeting, BNS reports.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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