France holds 'surprise' short notice paratrooper exercise into Estonia
Eighty paratroopers from the French armed forces carried out a short-notice military exercise in Estonia on Tuesday morning, to practice rapid deployment — the first of its kind between the two allies held on Estonian territory
At 7 a.m. the paratroopers from the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment jumped from their aircraft above Ämari Air Base in western Estonia.
The airborne operation, dubbed Thunder Lynx, was a force projection operation that saw Space Force A400M transport aircraft take off from Corsica, France, fly to Estonia and then carry out the airdrop over an area secured by two platoons of Estonian soldiers.
The exercise shows how the country can send forces to the Baltics at short notice if necessary.
After packing their parachutes, the unit joined 30 waiting members of the Estonian armed forces. The final goal of the exercise was to take control of two buildings.
The exercise was the first of its kind held in Estonia between the two allies, but Estonian and French forces are used to working together in Mali.
"The aim of this operation is to demonstrate our capacity to project, at very short notice, nearly 100 paratroopers to intervene, in an emergency response scenario, to support an allied country. It shows France's capacity to project fast, far, urgently, what we call in-depth," Cpt. Sebastien Isern, public affairs advisor to the French mission Lynx, told ERR News.
This operation was similar to another conducted in Romania in February, with the deployment of the NATO Rapid Reaction Force Alert Battalion following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
France has been part of NATO's enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in Estonia since 2017 and is stationed at Tapa military base as part of the U.K.-led battlegroup, on a rotational basis. More than 300 French soldiers are included in the group.
Since February 24, France has increased its presence in the region, along with other NATO members.
"The Lynx mission should have ended a few months ago because the French battlegroup usually spends a year in Estonia before the troops are withdrawn to go to Lithuania, alternating every two years between Estonia and Lithuania. However, with the war in Ukraine, we decided to keep 200 soldiers in the field. We established continuity between the two mandates and showed the Estonian authorities that even with a less physical presence in Estonia, we are capable of projecting a deterrent force from France, as soon as the threat becomes visible," Commandant Isern said.
Thunder Lynx was an important step for both France and Estonia, participants said.
Johannes Vaelb, an EDF 2nd Sgt. who participated in the exercise, said: "Our goal was to secure and help the landing of the French troops. We coordinated and led them to the objective. Then, we attacked the object and formed a cordon around it."
"Their solidarity shows a lot of respect at this important time, and it means a lot for Estonians," he added.
The mission was considered a success by French officer Lt. Col. Fabrice Bordais. "We never know what the future will look like, and it's always stressful to test our capacity to join the Estonian army. But this morning, it was a great success. The Estonian and French parties have demonstrated that we can work together in the short term."
The operation took place ahead of NATO's Madrid summit starting on June 28, where the Baltics are requesting additional forces and permanent command structures from the alliance.
The decision to deploy battlegroups to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland was made at NATO's previous summit in Warsaw, and "historic" decisions are expected this time around.
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Editor: Helen Wright