Producer Sally Garner is reporting from Estonia and writes from a military base about the newly-independent country’s contribution to the war in Afghanistan.
This newly-independent former Soviet Republic takes its freedom very seriously. Proud of its membership in NATO and its friendship with the United States, Estonia is among the most committed of all the countries willing to send soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2002, Estonia — a country with fewer than 1.5 million people — sent its first soldiers to stand alongside the United States in the war on al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In 2003, Estonia signed on as one of the original members of the so-called “coalition of the willing” to fight the war in Iraq.
That may not sound newsworthy until you realize that this tiny country had no army until 1994 when Soviet troops finally left. As one army officer said, “We started from scratch.”
We saw this first generation of Estonian troops training for international missions on what used to be a Soviet military base not far from the town of Paldiski, about 50 miles from the capital city of Tallinn. Thirty young soldiers got their briefing in the snowy woods before tackling a tough lesson on searching for suspected Taliban fighters and weapons.
After scoping out possible approaches, they drove their armored personnel carriers up to abandoned Soviet barracks, a perfect training ground for soldiers learning how to maneuver in Afghan villages and towns. Perfect — except for the weather which is the complete opposite of the heat and dust they’ll experience during their upcoming summer tour of duty.
It’s an amazing sight to see. And what makes this a story that producer and cameraman Ara Ayer and I won’t forget is the discovery that many of these soldiers’ fathers were forced to serve in the Soviet Army during its long and disastrous invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
But these Estonian troops aren’t really interested in history. They’re focused on their country’s future and value their international service for the combat experience they can’t get in their very young country. As one lieutenant told us, “We always need to be ready for any enemy who wants to take our freedom away.”
– Sally Garner
Watch for Worldfocus’ upcoming series exploring the Baltics in the coming weeks.