EDF chief: Reservist-defense league interface to boost territorial defense

EDF commander Lt. Gen. Martin Herem.
EDF commander Lt. Gen. Martin Herem. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

A total of 10,000 Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) reservists are to be assigned to volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit) districts, EDF commander Lieutenant General Martin Herem said on Tuesday.

The government has earmarked a reported €30 million for the purpose.

The main aim would be a defensive one, with the personnel being designated light infantry. Since the Defense League recruits territorially, the reservist-volunteers should be well familiar with their environs, while, only those with military experience are to be assigned – all of these are lessons observed from the current conflict in Ukraine.

The regular EDF has two existing infantry battalions which are designated heavy (i.e. mechanized) infantry.

Lt. Gen. Herem has also proposed the government boost territorial defense to 20,000 all told, if the existing Defense League figure can be raised to 10,000.

Speaking at a Ministry of Defense press conference Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Herem said: "By the end of the year, we will add about 10,000 EDF reservists to the territorial units. All of these will be assigned to specific land defense districts and would be deployed from there. Their role in terms of conflict situations would be as light infantry. Defensive battles, however, are primarily not decisive, but rather have a delaying and wearing down effect on the enemy," explained Herem.

EDF reservists are those who have served as conscripts and are liable for reservist call-up for exercises such as Siil, while the Defense League consists of volunteers who report to a specific, regional Defense League district ("Malev").

Lt. Gen. Herem added that the EDF's wartime composition would rise from 26,000 to 36,000.

"We are boosting the land-based defense, comprising territorial units being prepared on the basis of the Defense League. Our plan so far has been for 9,500 fighters within this structure, but probably the defense alliance will grow to about 10,000 people by the end of this year," he went on.

"From the point of view of Estonia's national defense, the only way to create depth in this defense is if we create an even stronger territorial defense than the Defense League is already engaged in today."

While this is a modification of the position prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine from February 24, the experience in Ukraine so far confirms Estonia's pre-war defensive doctrine, so far as land forces are concerned, Herem added.

"The war in Ukraine has confirmed our earlier positions. I would focus on two of these: In the event of a crisis and conflict, a large number of volunteers and reservists, may not have been assigned to wartime posts and mobilized at that point in time. To organize these, you must be ready ahead of the point at which a situation becomes a conflict," he went on.

The government has set aside €30 million to that end, principally for the purchase of equipment.

Lt. Gen. Herem also urged all those reservists who wish to defend Estonia militarily to join the relevant Defense League district; even if their application is initially unsuccessful their names will be on lists.

The move would mean each of Estonia's 15 counties would have around 1,000 trained personnel, the EDF commander added, while the appointment process will begin in the first half of next year – during which 10,000 reservists not already assigned to rapid response units will be selected, while training will take place under Defense League guidance, regionally, with an aim to the system being ready by 2024.

Defense League comander Brig. Gen. Riho Ühtegi said confirmed the 10,000 figure: "In other words, by the end of this year, we want 10,000 men and women within a wartime structure."

Since the previous figure had been 9,500, he felt that this should be attainable,

While Defense League membership stands at 28,500 all told, around 8,000 of these are minors, in the boys' and girls' affiliated units (Noored Kotkad and Kodutütred respectively), while there are many older people serving, as well as those who have no prior military experience, Ühtegi said.

The current conflict has demonstrated that while such light infantry units have worked quite well, losses are considerable when it comes to untrained or poorly trained units, hence the need for adequate preparation and experienced personnel.

Brig. Gen. Ühtegi even put a preferred demographic into the picture: "The sweetest cadre are those reservists who are in their thirties; these make the best and most stable soldiers," he said.

Wildly inflated figures of the numbers (of up to 230,000 in total) of EDF, Defense League and NATO allied personnel present in Estonia have been presented on an anti-propaganda site, ostensibly for foreign media consumption.

Defense League membership is also in theory open to non-citizens residing in Estonia and indeed some individuals, at least one with prior military experience with an elite U.K. unit, were reportedly involved long prior to the February 24 invasion.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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