Estonia’s government has decided to send up to 50 soldiers to Mali for a one year mission to support the French Barkhane force in the region.
On 22 March the Estonian government said it had decided to support a proposal to apply for a mandate from the parliament to increase Estonia’s military contribution in Mali.
During the Barkhane operation, led by France, the Estonian contingent will be tasked with ensuring the security of the base and its surroundings. An infantry unit on armoured personnel carriers and a support element will participate in Barkhane. The unit will be based in the Gao military camp in Mali.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said that Estonia’s decision to contribute to an anti-terrorist operation is another example of the excellent cooperation between Estonia and France. “France sent their unit to Estonia last spring to accompany the unit of the UK in the NATO battlegroup located here. The French unit will return to the battlegroup next year. Countries do not send their units abroad without careful consideration. The fact that Estonia and France have found numerous opportunities over the past few years for defence cooperation with practical added value undoubtedly signifies the close relations of the two countries,” said Prime Minister Ratas.
Jüri Luik, Minister of Defence, said that by supporting an operation led by their ally, Estonia would show that it does not merely benefit from security, but also contributes to it. “By participating in an operation with the aim of creating stability on the southern edge of NATO and the EU, we support our strong European ally. We also reinforce the image of Estonia as a country willing to contribute to ensuring security regardless of the location of the main threats to the security of Europe,” said the Minister of Defence.
The French Minister of Defence proposed for Estonia to participate in Barkhane, France’s largest foreign operation, this January. The Republic of Mali has sent an official agreement for Estonian forces to enter the territory of Mali. Barkhane is an operation led by France in the Sahel region in Africa, which aims to create stability and manage the problems caused by the region that Europe needs to address, such as terrorism and illegal immigration.
The objective of Barkhane is to stabilise the situation in the Sahel region to an extent that would allow the authorities of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad – all located in the region – to ensure security on their own. The operation is centred in Mali. Estonia is one of the first allies that France has invited to participate in Barkhane. In addition to Estonia, the United Kingdom has also announced their planned contribution to the operation.
Currently, Estonia contributes to two operations carried out in Mali: the EU training mission EUTM-Mali (four training instructors and staff officers) and the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA (three staff officers). The operations carried out in the region coordinate and support each other’s activities.
In 2014, a 50-membered Estonian infantry unit participated in the stabilising operation carried out in the Central African Republic by the European Union. The operation was mainly organised by the French forces.
In 2017, a French armoured unit of 300 members with combat vehicles and tanks participated in the NATO battlegroup located in Estonia. France has announced that their unit will return to Tapa in 2019.