The Estonian blue-black-white was lowered at a ceremony in the Afghan capital Kabul Wednesday, marking the departure of Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) personnel who have contributed to NATO missions there, and the end of a chapter which began back in 2003.
Lt. Col. Vladislav Belov, commander of the EDF contingent in Afghanistan, said: "Lowering the flag is a sad moment, as it marks the end of something, but also means the beginning of a new chapter. In together, out together."
The nine EDF members who have fallen in Afghanistan in the past 18 years were commemorated by the event, while those who have been injured, and all the close to 3,000 personnel from Estonia who have served over that time, were also honored in the process.
News in April that President Joe Biden would be withdrawing all U.S. personnel from Afghanistan this year was shortly followed by an announcement that Estonia, which also discussed the matter with key allies the U.K. and Germany, would be following suit.
Estonia is one of only a handful of NATO member states to have consistently taken part in foreign missions in Afghanistan, which emerged in the aftermath of the September 11 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, starting with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), 2003-2014, and superseded by Operation Resolute Support from 2015.
By way of contrast, an older generation of Estonians drafted into the armed forces of the occupying Soviet power would have served in the 1980-1989 conflict in Afghanistan, one which spanned not much more than half the time-frame the EDF's involvement has done.
NATO mission medals were also handed out at Wednesday's ceremony (see gallery above), while Resolute Support commander Gen. Scott Miller. highlighted Estonia's long-term contribution to the mission in Afghanistan, paid tribute to the wounded and fallen, and thanked the EDF contingent for its dedicated service.
All those service people still in Afghanistan and involved in Resolute Support will be returning home in the coming weeks, including staff officers, military police members, medics and others, as well as infantry personnel.
Editor: Andrew Whyte