The Baltic Times
Jun 27, 2007
By Joel Alas
HONORING THE VICTIMS: A condolence book was opened on June 25 for Sgt. Kalle Torn (pictured) and Jr. Sgt. Jako Karuks, who were killed the previous weekend in a missile attack in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
TALLINN – Two Estonian soldiers were killed in a missile attack in Afghanistan, an event Foreign Minister Urmas Paet characterized as the cost of bearing Estonia’s own security.
The two soldiers, members of a mine clearance team in the Helmand province, were attacked with a 107 mm missile during their lunch break on June 23.
Four other soldiers were injured in the same attack – two of them seriously – and remain under medical care.
Sgt. Kalle Torn, 24, assistant to the commander of the mine disposal team, and Jr. Sgt. Jako Karuks, 33, the driver of the team, were named as the deceased.
Paet said the deaths were the unfortunate cost of securing support from Estonia’s allies in times of strife.
“No one besides ourselves protects our principles – not even our allies – if we are not ready to do it ourselves,” Paet said.
“It is in Estonia’s interests to directly contribute to the growth of peace and democracy in the world. Only then can we be certain of our security and our allies’ support.”
Estonia has already lost two soldiers since the start of the United States’ so-called “war on terror” – two men were killed while taking part in the invasion of Iraq.
However President Toomas Hendrik Ilves called on the nation to continue supporting the international missions.
“They were not just soldiers but mine clearance specialists whose duty it was to clear Afghanistan, ridden by decades of war, from deadly explosives planted into its soil,” Ilves said.
“This shows how difficult and dangerous our struggle is together with Afghans for a peaceful Afghanistan. This shows that we have no right to break this mission.”
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip expressed a similar mindset, and said that stabilizing Afghanistan was in Estonia’s interests.
“Our assistance is being given in a country that for nearly three decades has been ruled by chaos and violence, and could be a threat to us in our own country in an unforeseeable future,” Ansip said.
“We are taking part in the mission at the Afghani government’s request, in the composition of NATO, shoulder to shoulder with the whole democratic world, as a united family of 37 countries in order to contribute to stability in the world and to make it a better place.”
News of the deaths reached Estonia late on June 23, the date the nation celebrates both Jaanipaev, or midsummer, and Victory Day.
The two men were part of a team clearing mines in the Sangin Valley in the Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan.
Sgt. Torn had served in the defense forces since 2003, and had already taken part in two earlier operations in Afghanistan. Jr. Sgt. Karuks had served as a soldier since 2006.
They were both part of the 10-strong Estonian ordnance clearing team accompanying the 80-strong Estonian infantry company.
Estonia has taken part in the NATO operation in Afghanistan since 2003.
One analyst said the Estonian people would understand the deaths were a “necessary evil” in maintaining the support of allies.
Kadri Liik, director of the Tallinn-based International Center for Defense Studies, said Estonians generally supported the Afghanistan mission.
“Afghanistan has a more legitimate image than Iraq, which is a purely American mission and is considered by many to be an occupation,” Liik told The Baltic Times.
“But Afghanistan is a NATO mission and the troops are there with local government approval. The majority of people think we have to help our allies so that they will come to our aid when we need it.”
However, Liik said she hoped that politicians would promote a better understanding of Middle East security.
“The Middle East is a direct concern for Estonia, with or without America. If things boil over there, there are direct implications for Estonia. Noone in government has bothered to make a more sophisticated argument than that we have to support our allies,” she said.