EDF commander: Afghanistan mission gave Estonian soldiers confidence

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Martin Herem. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) commander Lt. Gen. Martin Herem told ETV's morning show "Terevisioon" that Estonia's 18-year long stint at the U.S-led Afghanistan mission gave Estonian soldiers experience and confidence.

Herem said life in Afghanistan now is much better than it was 18 years ago, when Estonia began contributing to allied missions in the region. He added that Estonia has achieved the status of trustworthy ally, as well. "And the Estonian soldier has been recognized as a very strong soldier who risks everything to perform the tasks they have been assigned," he noted.

He added that armies are pleased to leave Afghanistan because there is not much more to do. "Other areas of the country must now help develop the Afghan state."

The 18-year mission has seen nine Estonians fallen, several dozen have also gotten injured. "It is a job for a member of the EDF and if they need to risk their life, they will do so. We are not asking or thinking whether or not it is the right task at that moment," Herem said.

Responding to a question about if Estonian society has understood the necessity of participating in Operation Resolute Support, the EDF commander said it seems to him as if society is supportive of it.

"When we have seen losses, there have been more questions. But if we see allies in Estonia, willing to protect our country, we are prepared to understand. It goes in waves but it seems to me that the Estonian society is supportive, even looking at the popularity of celebrating Veterans' Day," the EDF commander said.

He said it is hard to assess how Afghanistan will manage post-mission. "Compared to 20 years ago, real estate prices in Kabul are higher. Women make up more than 50 percent of the attendance of Kabul University. The state is operational, but largely in part of the West," Herem said.

Some nations will remain in Afghanistan, some will train there, some will offer protection for the airstrip in Kabul. "But it is no longer a NATO mission. It is now largely up to the Afghans' themselves to go forward as a country."

Estonia's largest foreign mission is now Operation Barkhane in Mali. Herem said it is up to the politicians to decide if Estonia should contribute in another region of crisis.

"I do not want to be in war. There are some smaller missions as well. A group has gone to Iraq, but it is a one-time thing. I do not want to be cynical, but foreign missions provide experience and confidence. Afghanistan certainly gave us that. It is not the EDF's business to go looking for another mission. If we are given a task, we will go," Herem concluded.

On Tuesday evening, the very last Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) personnel to serve in Afghanistan arrived back home in Estonia.

The arriving troops had served in Operation Resolute Support, successor of the original U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan initiated after the September 11 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, and were received at Ämari air base with a ceremony attended by family members as well as defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) and EDF commander Martin Herem, as well as the EDF's orchestra.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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