Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) members have received a French military decoration, in recognition of their service in the West African nation of Mali.
The personnel were ending a four-month stint in the western city of Gao, where EDF troops regularly serve as part of the French-led Operation Barkhane counter-terrorism mission.
Commanding officer and outgoing Senior National Representative (SNR) Maj. Rauno Viitmann said of the ceremony, which took place Sunday, that: "The past six months as Senior National Representative were challenging but as well productive."
"Estonian units that served here during that time did their job well and I am one hundred percent sure that the new SNR and contingent will continue keeping their standards high," Viitmann continued, according to an EDF press release.
Incoming SNR Major Rauno Vahimets said that: "Members of the current contingent, led by Maj. Viitmann, have done a great job which we are honored to continue."
"We will do our best to keep our standards and professionalism high, he added."
Members of the contingent, dubbed BKN-10 and numbering 50, were awarded that French overseas deployment medal (Medaille d'Outre-Mer).
The medal has been issued to troops for participating in operations outside of French territory since 1962, following the end of the Algerian War.
Areas of service, in this case the Sahel, are indicated by a clasp that is attached to the medal.
The outgoing soldiers' main tasks in Gao were manning gates and observation posts at the military base, forming the quick reaction force (QRF) and patrolling in and around the city, where EDF troops have been based since 2018.
Operation Barkhane's main goals are to support the five Sahel region states Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, all part of the colonial state of French West Africa save for Chad, which was part of French Equatorial Africa, in the fight against terrorism, extremism and human trafficking activities.
Estonia's main rationale for taking part, in addition to the training and experience value, is as a quid pro quo in helping to guard the EU's southern frontier, for allied support – including that of France, whose personnel regularly partake in the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup based at Tapa – in duties on its eastern frontier.
Editor: Andrew Whyte