Let it be made clear: the analysis completed last week is so fresh as to be yet unknown to key ministries and Riigikogu. Regarding missions, however, it is the latter that provides the mandate, so it is all far indeed from being settled.
Even so, the analysis is a kind of a foundation for such a decision. The best brains of Estonian defence planning are currently going by the assumption that crises and their outcome – like with the mass migration – will rather grew worse over the world. The 600 member Scoutsbattalion, left a bit idle as Afghanistan and Central African Republic missions ended, would be able to help alleviate these while boosting Estonian foreign political clout.
The options are three. The first would be Estonian soldiers joining the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq or Turkey. We would not be talking about combat units, but instructors at bases training Iraqi security forces and the fighters of Kurdish Peshmerga. Mainly, they’d be passing on infantry skills from squad attack to mine clearance.
Though ever since 2014 Estonia has been part of anti-ISIS coalition along with 60 others, thus far the participation has only been indirect. As an example of that, at end of this summer we sent Kurds 28 tonnes or ammunition i.e. a million cartridges. Also, we donated to Iraq about 50 Soviet era firearms and mine-throwers which we do not need.
If a manned mission against ISIS becomes reality, it will probably mean a rotating platoon-sized unit on location. The likeliest spot would be Anbar Province in Central Iraq, as the militarily mighty Turkey has thus far only allowed UK and US boots on its ground.
In Iraq, Estonians would not do the training alone. This summer, Sweden sent 120 near Erbil, Northern Iraq, while Finland added 47. Belgians and Norwegians were there before. At the moment, Latvia and Lithuania are considering participation. If the mission comes, it would surely be longer than one rotation as before ISIS is subdued it would be politically complicated for the coalition to withdraw from the area.
Commander of the Defence Forces Lieutenant-General Riho Terras says the mission in Iraq would not compare in danger to what was experienced in Helmand, Afghanistan, while the risk would not be as low as in Western-Ukraine where our servicemen head to train Ukrainian soldiers in the beginning of November.
Although the land around allied training bases in Northern and Central Iraq is predominantly under Kurdish control, the front with ISIS is continually shifting back and forth. Outside the bases the situation is very volatile as evidenced by the mainly US and Danish fighters bombing ISIS positions constantly and on a very broad territory. As the Finns headed for Iraq this August, the Brigadier General in charge Petri Hulkko noted they’d probably avoid direct fire by ISIS at training camps – while suicide attacks were not ruled out.