A recent editorial in the Estonian newspaper Õhtuleht questioned Estonia’s — and indirectly all of NATO’s — engagement in Afghanistan. The piece argued that Estonia was not contributing to world stability, but was instead inviting “Muslims to attack Estonia.” Finally, Õhtuleht cited a source stating that Estonia had already proven its loyalty to the U.S. and NATO and should stop “wasting money and bring Estonian troops home.” This editorial got it wrong on some many levels that it is hard to know exactly where to start.
NATO’s engagement, with important Estonian contributions as an Alliance member, is making a major contribution to world stability. This stability was shattered by the deadly attack on a NATO country, namely the United States, abetted by Taliban emanating from Afghan soil. The Alliance is commited to seeking out and destroying radical extremists and to denying them future refuge among the long-suffering Afghan people. Neither Estonia nor its other NATO allies are fighting “Muslims,” quite the contrary. We are fighting together with Muslims and with more than 40 other nations and our Afghan friends to defeat terrorists who are perverting a proud faith to wage war on innocent people around the world.
And finally, Estonia’s engagement in Afghanistan has nothing to do with loyalty toward the United States, NATO or anyone else other than one’s conscience. This is a fight against indiscriminate murder of both Muslims and non-Muslims and a responsibility that a determined world community has taken up to prevent future bloodshed. To disrespect the sacrifices of so many Estonians, some of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice, by discribing their bravery as a self-serving mission that has run its course is just wrong — on ALL levels.
Putting Al-Qaeda permanently out of business is one of the top anti-terrorist goals of the civilized world. Returning control of the country of Afghanistan back to the Afghan people is part of meeting that goal. NATO allies and non-NATO partners continue to work tirelessly, often at great peril, on completing our mission in Afghanistan with an eye to a conditions-based process of withdrawal of international military forces. Of course our respective publics are anxious to see that happen. President Obama has made U.S. policy on Afghanistan very clear. The leadership of our Estonian allies has been equally steadfast and categorical in its commitment to our common goal. America’s solemn commemoration of the 9/11 this past weekend, and the twin tragedies of Estonian war-related deaths over a week ago, again highlighted the importance of a determined international community finishing what Al-Qaeda started … and finishing Al-Qaeda.
On February 4th, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of four Afghan nationals, representing the Afghan NGO and independent media communities and enjoyed a spirited discussion on a broad range of issues of mutual concern. At the same time in Kabul, the U.S. Embassy’s Deputy Ambassador, Francis Ricciardone, was meeting with members of the Estonian Parliament’s Defense Committee, including Chairman Mati Raidma. In addition to the meeting with Deputy Ambassador Ricciardone, Raidma and his colleagues met with General Stanley McChrystal, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
These meetings demonstrate clearly the strong cooperation between the U.S. and Estonia to help build strong governmental institutions in Afghanistan. It is important that the international community, of which America and Estonia are two important members, continues to engage the Afghan people on the vital issues of good governance, freedom of speech and political responsibility.