President starts Afghanistan official visit

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Panorama of Afghan capital Kabul. Source: Government Office of the Republic of Estonia

President Kersti Kaljulaid began a working visit to Afghanistan Wednesday. The trip will focus on expressing support for NATO and other allied personnel there, including Estonia's own defense forces (EDF), ahead of the withdrawal of US and other allied forces later this year.

The president's trip had been planned earlier this year; she obtained two AstraZeneca anti-coronavirus injections in March and April precisely for that reason, but the announcement of the visit predated U.S. President Joe Biden's announcement last week that his country's soldiers would be coming home, ending the twenty-year presence in the country.

Many NATO and other allies in Afghanistan have followed suit, including Estonia, who wanted also to discuss the matter with key allies, the U.K. and Germany (whose army and air force respectively have a presence in Estonia itself).

The Estonian president will meet her Afghan opposite number Ashraf Ghan, the country's foreign minister Haneef Atmar, U.S. General Austin S. Miller, commander of the allied forces in Afghanistan, and other leaders and UN personnel, as well as EDF soldiers, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.

Presidential defense adviser Peeter Kuimet said that: "The operation in Afghanistan has been the longest and most difficult military mission in re-independent Estonia (Estonia's independence was restored in August 1991 and the country joined NATO in 2004 – ed.).

"With this visit, the President of the Republic, who is also supreme commander of the national defense forces, wants to highlight the contribution of all Estonian servicemen who served there," said Peeter Kuimet.

The president's visit recognizes both the EDF's contribution to the mission, Afghanistan's future, and the time-scale for the withdrawal of NATO and other allied personnel.

Joe Biden's predecessor Donald Trump put a withdrawal date of May this year, but the former set the symbolic date of September 11 for the deadline, by which time all personnel will have vacated the country.

Whether any other presence or mission comprising U.S. or other personnel will be drawn up in the meantime has not been reported.

The EDF has maintained a presence in Afghanistan since 2003, a year before Estonia joined NATO and the EU. There are at the time of writing 45 EDF members in Afghanistan.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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