Two Estonians killed in Afghanistan

  • 2007-06-25
  • By TBT staff

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves urged Estonians to lower their flags to half mast on June 23.

Two Estonian soldiers were killed in a missile attack in Afghanistan on June 23 - the nation's first casualties in the NATO-led mission.

The two men, members of the Estonian mine clearance team, were attacked with a 107 mm missile during their lunch break in the Sangin Valley in the Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan.

Sgt. Kalle Torn, 24, the assistant commander of the ordnance disposal team, and Jn. Sgt. Jako Karuks, 33, the driver of the team, were named as the deceased.

Four other soldiers sustained injuries in the same attack and remain in medical care at Camp Bastion.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who began an official visit to the United States on June 24, called on the nation to lower its flags to half mast.

"Kalle Torn and Jako Karuks as well as their wounded companions were not just soldiers but mine clearance specialists whose duty it was to clear Afghanistan, ridden by decades of war, from deadly explosives planted into its soil," the president said.

"This shows how difficult and dangerous our struggle is together with Afghans for a peaceful Afghanistan. This shows that we have no right to break this mission."

Estonia also lost two soldiers in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"All of them are men who wanted to make the world a better place," the president said.

"I will lower the flag to half staff at my home in mourning of the Estonian soldiers killed in Afghanistan on Victory Day and ask all my countrymen to do the same."

Estonia has taken part in the operation in Afghanistan since 2003. On December 7, 2005 the Estonian parliament extended participation of the Estonian defense forces in Afghanistan by two years with up to 150 soldiers at any one time.

The military deaths will no doubt be the subject of discussion between Ilves and U.S. President George W. Bush, who are scheduled to meet in the Oval Office on June 25. Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and other high-ranking U.S. officials are also to attend the meeting.