DEDICATION TO ESTONIA’S FALLEN: Monument unveiling in Camp Bastion.
TALLINN - President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who was in Afghanistan on a working visit, said that one of the prerequisites of building up the country is that more people start supporting the country and believing in it, reports president.ee. “Your activities in developing the authority of Helmand Province, in the fight against corruption and in ensuring security in the parliamentary elections held in September, increases the trust of the residents of Helmand Province in the possibility of fair governance and serves as an example to many local leaders,” said the president in a meeting with Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand Province.
Mangal, one of the most powerful governors in Afghanistan, assured President Ilves that although the attacks of rebels in his home province remain frequent, he sees solid signs of improvement in the situation.
Estonia, for whom Afghanistan is one of the most important states in terms of development aid, coordinates the establishment of the local health care system in the team that is building up the Lashkar Gah Province. Estonia has also organized first aid courses, in-service training for physicians and the construction of an adult training center in Helmand Province. Estonia also supports the establishment of a police training center in cooperation with Great Britain and Denmark and is a cooperation partner to a project funded by the Japanese government, in the framework of which wells are dug to provide 5,000 people with drinking water in the proximity of Lashkar Gah.
Estonian health expert Priit Paju, who coordinates the build-up of the medical system of Helmand, introduced major local cooperation partners to President Ilves. “There is no success without any civil contribution and the war against the Taliban cannot be won merely by the force of arms,” said Ilves. “The Afghan people need our help and support in organizing medical assistance, making education more available and creating a better future overall, and if we can and are able to, we will obviously help them,” he added.
The head of state visited the Wahid Patrol Base where the Estonian infantry company ESTCOY-10 is based, and where Camp Bastion, the largest base of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), is located and where a logistical support unit is based. According to Ilves, one of the main goals of his visit to Afghanistan was to learn about the service of the Estonian troops and to thank these men and women for their service.
“You are our best troops,” he said in a meeting in the Wahid Patrol Base. “You serve in an area that is of special importance for the entire Afghanistan. The ideological base and most of the drug trafficking of the rebels is based in south Afghanistan. Therefore it is of great importance that this region is brought under the Kabul central power and the ISAF control,” said President Ilves. “On the one hand, we can say that battles have intensified compared to the previous year, but on the other hand, we realize that this was to be expected once the Afghan army and ISAF started acting more extensively and forcefully.”
According to the Estonian head of state, several Afghan leaders, high-ranking ISAF officers and representatives of international organizations assured him that there are signs of the Taliban getting exhausted and next year the security situation can be expected to improve.
President Ilves recognized the good training and courageous service of the Estonian troops in one of the most dangerous provinces in Afghanistan, where eight Estonian soldiers have given their lives. “You defend the right of the people of south Afghanistan to a secure life, but you also defend the security of Estonia, our NATO allies and our partners,” he said. “You have stood up against evil and have never backed down. On the contrary, you have taken the ground from the Taliban step by step,” proclaimed Ilves.
The Estonian leader emphasized that the state must provide the troops in Afghanistan with the best and most modern equipment and with strong social guarantees for the troops and the persons closest to them. “Firstly, it is obvious that the service in Afghanistan calls for different equipment and arms than in Estonia. In the coming months our troops in Helmand should, with the help of our allies, get the best equipment that will increase their security,” said the head of state.
“Secondly, we have to do everything and more to improve the situation of the troops who have been injured in the mission, provide them will all kinds of support. This also means legislative amendments so that our injured troops could continue active service in the Defense Forces in a position that is suitable for them.”
According to President Ilves, he does not have an answer to the question of how long the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan will last. “When we leave Afghanistan, we will do it in order to really leave, not to come back after a while,” he emphasized. “Extraction of forces now or in the near future would once again be likely to result in a civil war, chaos, a flood of refugees to the neighboring states and beyond, even Europe, the rise of instability in the nuclear state of Pakistan, the spread of extremism north of Afghanistan,” President Ilves exclaimed.
According to the Estonian head of state, the people of south Afghanistan are used to supporting the stronger side and thus: “The Afghan central government and provincial governments must be more reliable than the Taliban, and the Afghan’s own army and police must be stronger than the rebels, drug traffickers and local warlords jointly.”
To thank the Estonian troops in Afghanistan for their courage and excellent service, Ilves gave them silver collector coins made by Eesti Pank (Bank of Estonia).
During the visit the head of state was accompanied by Ants Laaneots, the Commander of the Defense Forces, Mati Raidma, the Chairman of the National Defense Committee of the Parliament, and Riho Terras, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Defense.
President Ilves also attended the opening of the monument to fallen Estonian troops, in Camp Bastion. “We remember and mourn all the brave Estonian troops who have fallen in Afghanistan for the sake of the security of local people, Estonia and our allies,” said President Ilves. “Our duty is to remember all the troops who have fallen for our country in the fight for freedom – our freedom and the freedom that the people in Afghanistan deserve,” said the Estonian head of state.
The monument was erected on the initiative of the National Defense Committee of the Parliament and the Estonian Reserve Officers Association. The amount comprising more than a hundred voluntary donations also allows for the transportation and installation of the monument in Estonia after Estonian Defense Forces have ended their mission to south Afghanistan.
President Ilves also participated in a memorial service to British fallen troops, in Camp Bastion.