Minister of Defence Jüri Luik (Pro Patria) visited members of ESTPLA-28, the Estonian contingent stationed in the West African country of Mali, during his visit there on Wednesday.
Mr Luik recognised the Estonian soldiers for their contribution towards ensuring the security of Estonia and its allies, during a visit aimed at getting acquainted with the situation on the ground and the work of Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) personnel.
''Countries do not take decisions to send their forces to distant countries lightly,'' said Mr Luik, according to a ministry press release.
''However, Operation Barkhane provides the opportunity for Estonia and France to further strengthen their relationship as allies,'' he went on. The minister also noted that allied solidarity is crucial to Estonia, something also being demonstrated by the return of French troops this spring as part of the NATO combat group stationed at Tapa.
Operation Barkhane is a French-led anti-insurgent mission covering not only the north of Mali, but four other countries in the Sahel region: Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad. All of these nations are former French colonies.
The commander of the Estonian contingent, Maj. Kristjan Karist, said that even though they are at times operating under difficult conditions in Gao, the city where the EDF troops are based, all assignments are completed, and necessary operational experience is being gained in Mali.
Mr Luik also met with Col. Yann de Kermenguy, commander of the Operation Barkhane base in Gao.
''I was pleased to hear that the Operation Barkhane command staff here in Gao value our activity very highly, and Estonia's infantry company has been recognised as a professional, dedicated and well-led unit,' said Mr Luik.
Just under 50 EDF personnel have been in Gao as part of Operation Barkhane since August 2018. Their main role is ensuring base security, carrying out patrols within the vicinity of the base and rapid reaction in emergency situations.
Mr Luik had already met with his Malian counterpart, Tiémoko Sangaré.
Editor: Andrew Whyte