The greeting of President Ilves to the members of the Defence Forces who served in Afghanistan and their families follows.
My good mission soldiers and your families.
I feel great relief in saying: Estonian soldiers, welcome home!
Participation in NATO's operation in Afghanistan, the most difficult and complicated foreign mission of the Estonian Defence Forces, is now over.
Today, it is important to pose two questions. Why did we go to Afghanistan in the first place? And what did we achieve there?
Estonia joined NATO's military operation in Afghanistan to confirm and peg our allegiance to the alliance. This was the fundamental issue. And, of course, the aim was to combat evil that had, back then, turned Afghanistan into a failed and dangerous country that repressed both its own people and had spread violence and terror beyond its borders.
Therefore: Estonia's ten-year contribution to the security of Afghanistan has been a contribution to our own security. The essential principle of «one for all and all for one» that governs NATO can now be seen here, today.
Just as we went to the aid of our allies, our brothers in arms are now coming to support us. The additional fighter planes of the USA, Denmark, the UK, Poland and other allies participating in NATO's air security mission in the Baltic states, allied vessels and the arrival of the US Airborne Brigade Company in Estonia all represent visible components of this camaraderie in arms and allied relationships.
As a member of NATO, Estonia enjoys a more solid defence today than ever before in the history of our country – both before World War II and since restoring our independence.
On the battlefield, the Estonian Defence Force members showed that they are among the best soldiers in the world. Approximately 2,500 soldiers and Defence League members who stood for Estonia in foreign missions have contributed something invaluable. Your professionalism and mobility, specifically ESTCOY, have been praised by many of our allies; the same goes for your skilful and brave deployment. I have personally heard words of acknowledgment from several top NATO military officials in Afghanistan, Brussels, Washington and Tallinn that praise your excellent co-operation ability, courage and battle skills.
Thanks to your experiences and courage, the Estonian Defence Forces are better and more professional, and I believe also more considerate of its soldiers, in terms of training, equipment and warfare.
But what about Afghanistan itself? Is this country more secure, successful and safer now? Yes, definitely, although many things have not turned out as well as we had hoped, 12 years ago, when the Mine Clearance Team of the Rescue Board landed at Bagram Air Base. We were able to achieve a lot there, although there were even more things that were beyond our reach.