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President Karis: EDF deployment to Iraq invaluable to Estonia's defense development

President Alar Karis (fourth from left) visiting troops involved in Operation Inherent Resolve.
President Alar Karis (fourth from left) visiting troops involved in Operation Inherent Resolve. Source: Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia / Janari Kintsiraud

Military deployments to Iraq and other overseas locations pay dividends towards Estonia's own national defense, in addition to contributing to the global fight against terror, President Alar Karis says.

"The fight against terrorism is vital for Estonia, as demonstrated by the events of the last few months in Iraq," the head of state said earlier this week, via a press release.

The president has been on an official visit to Iraq, where he met with U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Michael Ecker, head of Operation Inherent Resolve's (OIR) military advisory group.

President Karis affirmed Estonia's continued commitment to defensive cooperation with the U.S., in Iraq, every bit as much as in Europe.

The U.S. has been intensifying its presence in Europe and in particular in NATO Eastern Flank nations such as Estonia and Poland. Contributions like these, either via the large international organizations such as NATO, the UN or the EU, or, as here, via bilateral deployments, usually require reciprocation of some kind.

While there are around 100 Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) personnel on active service in Iraq at present, the plan is to increase these numbers from March.

President Karis visited EDF personnel participating in OIR at the Harir Air Base, Erbil Governorate, in the Kurdistan Region of Northern Iraq.

This operation also offers the EDF forces essential experience and training opportunities, and allows soldiers to challenge themselves, he said.

The skills acquired could be applied in real-life situations and in different parts of the world, the head of state added.

"Neither the EDF nor national defense will ever be ready," the president went on, meaning in the sense of being a completed project which could then become complacent.

"Allied relations are a capstone of any small country's security, especially in today's world, where authoritarian regimes, spearheaded by Russia, have presented a serious challenge to the entire Western world," the president said, while meeting with the EDF personnel based in Iraq.

OIR actions have effectively neutralized Daesh, he added, and the current focus in Iraq is to build up and develop its security forces.

The EDF contingent taking part in OIR includes an infantry company performing base protection, rapid response tasks and personal protection operations, a national support element in the rear echelon, as well as liaison staff officers and NCOs.

Estonia also contributes one staff officer to the NATO mission in Iraq.

The Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve is a U.S.-led operation aimed at the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, also known as Daesh, in Iraq and also in Syria, in order to facilitate regional stability. Its stated cost since August 2014 comes to $14.3 billion (around €13.1 billion) and since August 2017, 13,331 OIR air strikes have been launched in Iraq, and 11,235 in Syria.

Alar Karis is the first head of state of Estonia ever to have visited Iraq in an official capacity. He met with Iraqi President Abdull Latif Rachid while in Baghdad.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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