Defense ministry plans to extend Operation Barkhane activities into Niger

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Estonian Special Operations Forces platoon in Mali Source: Estonian Defense Forces

The defense ministry says it plans to extend an existing Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) operation in the West African nation of Mali to incorporate territory in neighboring Niger. The mission would involve special forces EDF members.

The ministry has drafted for approval orders which would supply up to 75 EDF members to take part in French-led counter-terrorism missions both countries, through to year-end 2022.

The EDF has been providing an infantry platoon and other personnel as its contribution to the French-led Operation Barkhane, a counter-terrorism and anti-human trafficking endeavor which covers a vast area of terrain in the Sahel region, including countries such as Chad and Mauritania, as well as Mali and Niger – all former French colonies.

The defense ministry's draft states in its explanatory memo that the move would help achieve objectives relating to the EDF's mission better; the Niger contingent would be made up of Special Forces EDF personnel rather than regular infantry as in Mali.

The statement read: "Terrorist groups mostly move across national borders in the desert, which means that Estonian special forces would also need to be flexible during the operation."

"The Takuba area of operations in Mali and in the region of Niger near the borders of Mali and Burkina Faso has been defined by France considering the movement of terrorist groups between the three countries," the statement continued, according to BNS.

The ministry has set aside over €7.3 million for the purpose, BNS reports.

New EDF platoon deploying to Mali in September

Meanwhile a fresh EDF infantry platoon, BKN-10 ESTPLA infantry platoon, has completed its preparations for deployment to Mali, in a few weeks' time.

The unit's commander, 2nd Lt. Taavi Tammaru, said that the nine-week training process, which included exercises in conjunction with NATO French troops based at Tapa as part of the battlegroup there, had given the participants some good experince.

He said: "France is one of our important allies, with whom we have been working together already for some time."

"First are foremost, by participating in the French-led counter-insurgency Operation Barkhane in Mali, where we work together on a daily basis and exchange know-how and best practices for better cooperation," 2nd Lt. Tammaru continued, as quoted by BNS.

EDF personnel are based in the western Malian city of Gao and regularly conduct patrols, checkpoints and rapid reaction to incidents – all scenarios covered by the training, BNS reports, with a view to providing as close a likeness to urban maneuvers, which may include dealing with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in the region as possible.

The defense ministry also says that it will extend its deployment of up to five members of the EDF towards EU and UN training and operations in Mali, in addition to those taking part in Operation Barkhane.

In September BKN-10 ESTPLA replaces BKN-9 ESTPLA, which has been at Gao, Mali since May.

Gao, Mali lies on the river which gives neighboring Niger – whose borders lie several hundred kilometers to the east – its name.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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