Missions and operations

NATO is an active and leading contributor to peace and security in the international arena. NATO promotes democratic values and is committed to the peaceful settlement of disputes. If diplomatic efforts fail, NATO has the military capability to conduct crisis management operations alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organisations.
NATO is a crisis management organisation capable of carrying out a wide range of military operations and missions.
NATO participates in operations and missions worldwide, often leading complex land, air and maritime operations in all types of environments; in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak, NATO is ensuring that its deployed personnel are protected against the pandemic.
NATO is leading operations in Kosovo and the Mediterranean.
In 2018, NATO launched a training mission in Iraq to develop the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, support defence and security agencies and the national defence academies.
NATO also supports the African Union and conducts air security missions at the request of the Allies. NATO is also helping in the response to the refugee and migration crisis in Europe and has deployed Patriot missiles and AWACS aircraft to Turkey.
NATO also carries out disaster relief operations and missions to protect the population from natural, technological or humanitarian disasters.
While not directly an operation or mission, NATO is supporting civilian efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in its member countries and partner countries, and supporting local authorities where NATO troops are deployed.
The pace and diversity of operations and missions involving NATO has increased since the early 1990s.
ISAF (03.2003–12.2014)
NATO’s operation in Afghanistan was launched to enhance state-building in Afghanistan and thereby strengthen stability in the region. The world now has an improved understanding that there are no quick fixes in Afghanistan – contribution is a very long and complex process that has been going on for decades. Estonian units have been present in Afghanistan since 13 March 2003 as part of the NATO mission, starting with a six-member demining team. The Estonian units were located in Helmand Province since February 2006 and the size of its military contingent was 150 people on average. The last infantry company returned to Estonia in late spring 2014.
RESOLUTE SUPPORT (01.2015–06.2021)
Resolute Support was the follow-up mission of ISAF. A training and advisory mission in Afghanistan led by NATO, the goal of which was to provide advice and training to Afghan security forces and other national agencies in the fight against extremist groups opposed to the central government. Estonia contributed a demining team, an infantry team, a military police representation, medics from the Role 2 basic medical centre and a staff officer to the mission until 2021, when NATO ended its 20-year mission in Afghanistan.  In April 2021, the Allies decided to start withdrawing RSM troops by 1 May 2021 and the mission was ended in early September 2021.
The crisis in Kosovo was one of the conflicts arising from the break-up of Yugoslavia that could not be resolved peacefully. NATO first intervened in the conflict with military action in 1999. KFOR (Kosovo Force) is a NATO-led international operation tasked with establishing and maintaining security in order to end the widespread violence and stop the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo. The task of KFOR is to prevent the resumption of hostilities, create a safe and secure living environment and support the structures of the state of Kosovo and the international organisations operating in Kosovo. The KFOR troops entered Kosovo on 12 June 1999, two days after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999). The KFOR troops continue to maintain a strong presence throughout the territory. In total, 31 countries are contributing approximately 3,500 peacekeepers to the KFOR operation to help create a secure environment and ensure freedom of movement for all citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origin.
The KFOR originally consisted of approximately 50,000 men and women from NATO member countries, partner countries and non-NATO countries under unified command and control. The KFOR was reduced to around 39,000 soldiers by early 2002. The improved security environment enabled NATO to reduce the number of KFOR troops to 26,000 by June 2003, then to 17,500 by the end of 2003 and to about 3,500 today.
After the adoption of Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February 2008, NATO agreed to maintain its presence under UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Since then, NATO has helped establish the professional and multi-ethnic Kosovo Security Force, which is a lightly armed force responsible for guaranteeing security in tasks that cannot be performed by the police. The goal is to ensure peace, stability and public order. NATO is also supporting the EU-sponsored dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. The normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo is key to resolving the political deadlock over northern Kosovo. As the security situation in Kosovo has improved, NATO has gradually reduced its presence in the region.
Estonia has been contributing to the region and participating in the NATO peacekeeping operation in Kosovo since 1999, when the first 10 active servicemen were deployed. Estonia’s contribution to the operation peaked in 2004, when 122 active servicemen served simultaneously in Kosovo. In February 2010, the last Estonian group-sized unit completed its operations, and since then up to three active servicemen have been serving at KFOR headquarters in Pristina. Estonia reduced its contribution to the KFOR in relation to the overall transformation of the operation, which was based on NATO’s assessment that the situation in Kosovo had become more stable. NATO member countries have agreed that the withdrawal from Kosovo will be decided and implemented jointly, and until that time, the contributions of the member countries will be necessary.
See also mission websites here and here.
OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM, (OIF) (06.2003-2011) The campaign against Iraq of March 2003 was carried out by a coalition of different countries, some of which were NATO member states and others were not. Although NATO as an organisation had no role in the decision to undertake or conduct the campaign, NATO took precautionary measures at the request of its member country Turkey by deploying surveillance aircraft and anti-missile weapons on Turkish territory before the OIF campaign began. NATO also provided liaison and logistics support to Poland, which participated in the US-led multinational stabilisation force set up in Iraq after the campaign.
Estonia participated in the OIF operation as part of the coalition forces with the ESTPLA infantry unit and a cargo handling team. More than 400 Estonian troops took part in the Iraqi operation, many of them repeatedly. Eighteen Estonian servicemen were wounded and two were killed in 2004. They were 21-year-old Junior Sergeant Andres Nuiamäe, who died in Baghdad in an IED explosion while on foot patrol, and 28-year-old Senior Sergeant Arre Illenzeer, who died in Baghdad in an IED explosion while on motorised patrol. The first group of the Estonian Defence Forces Light Infantry Group ESTPLA (ESTPLA-7) with 32 members started its service in Iraq in June 2003 and the last one (ESTPLA-17) returned in February 2009. A total of 11 Estonian groups participated in the operation in Iraq.
NATIO TRAINING MISSION (NTM), (02.2005–11.2011) The goal of the mission was to assist Iraqi security forces to a level that would allow the Iraqi Government to ensure stability and security in the country. NATO’s training mission in the region focused primarily on training, equipment and technical assistance, ruling out involvement in direct military combat. Estonia participated in training with staff officers.
NATO MISSION IRAQ (NMI), (10.2018–ongoing)
NATO training session NMI supports building up the defence capability of Iraq. The mission is based in Iraq and is aimed at countering threats to the Alliance from the South on a broader scale. The NMI will help Iraq build sustainable, transparent, inclusive and effective security structures and train Iraq’s own instructors to conduct training in the country’s security structures. The existence of a professional and responsible defence sector is necessary for the stability of Iraq and the wider region. The mission was launched at the 2008 NATO Brussels summit. Estonia contributes a staff officer and a military defence unit. NATO Mission Iraq (NMI) is a non-aggressive training and advisory mission based on partnership and engagement, and full respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Iraq. The advisory activities of NMI take place in Baghdad, including at the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, the Office of the National Security Advisor and relevant national security agencies. NMI training activities are carried out in Iraqi military schools in the Baghdad region, Taji and Besmayah. NMI is a new iteration of the Alliance’s long-standing relationship with Iraq, providing expertise and best practices in security and defence sector reforms, institution building, training and education from across the Alliance and its partners worldwide. See the mission page here. Estonia participates in the mission with a unit of the Defence Forces and a Staff Officer.
NATO air policing mission in the Baltic States was launched in 2004 when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania became full members of NATO. Air policing is an ordinary activity of NATO in peacetime, the purpose of which is to consistently control the airspace of the allied countries. As Estonia itself lacks the capacity to ensure the security of its airspace, our allies provide air policing over Estonia on a rotational basis. See the chronological rotation here.
NATO air policing is important to Estonia both practically and politically, because it’s part of the NATO joint defence. For its part, Estonia has contributed to air policing by establishing the Ämari airbase, which is capable of receiving allied military equipment if necessary. The existence of the Ämari air base is strategically very important to Estonia, because in a war situation the fastest way to deliver allied troops is by air.
Estonia does not have any fighters of its own and has no plans to acquire any in the near future. It would be too expensive for Estonia to maintain the destroyers. For example, one hour of flying time on a fourth-generation F-16 fighter jet costs around €13,000. As the Estonian airspace is protected by the Allied Forces, the Estonian Defence Forces can focus more of their resources on developing modern infantry and support systems to ensure the most expedient way to ensure our security, considering our financial means. As proof of this, Estonia has adhered to NATO’s collective requirement to contribute at least 2% of GDP to defence expenditure. View the overviews of the defence expenditure of NATO member countries here. Contributing to the development of a contemporary defence system is extremely important to Estonia as a NATO border country, because NATO is only as strong as its member countries.
In order to be able to deploy a NATO Response Force (NRF) in the event of crises and military conflicts, the concept of the NRF was endorsed at the Prague summit in 2002. The establishment of the NRF was endorsed by NATO Ministers of Defence in 2003. The Allied Joint Force Command of the NRF is based in Brunssum, the Netherlands. The troops rotating in the NRF meet very high standards. This is why they have a separate training programme of 6-18 months beforehand. The units are ready to move in any direction within a radius of 15,000 km from Brussels in 5-30 days. It’s important to know that a unit is not ready-made, but a package of capabilities in a ready-to-respond state, which is assembled according to the tasks and needs established. Since NATO withdrew its forces from Afghanistan in 2014, more attention has been given to developing the readiness and effectiveness of the NRF.
Read more here.
10.2001–11.2016 on the Mediterranean NATO maritime operation Active Endeavour was launched on 4 October 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks in the United States, to deter, disrupt and combat terrorists and provide protection from them on the Mediterranean Sea. The objective of the operation, which lasted until 2016, was to combat terrorism at sea, secure shipping routes and prevent all kinds of terrorist attacks. This helped secure one of the busiest trade routes in the world and was one of eight initiatives launched by the Alliance in 2001 in solidarity with the US. It was an operation carried out under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, i.e. a collective defence operation, initially only involving NATO member countries, but the Alliance also started accepting the participation of non-NATO countries in 2004. As part of the operation, allied warships carried out patrols, checked suspicious vessels and monitored shipping on the Mediterranean. Estonia participated in the operation with a warship security team
2010 was a turning point for OAE, as it moved from a platform-based to a network-based operation, using a combination of surveillance units and flash operations instead of permanent forces. In addition to the surveillance and inspection of suspicious ships, it helped create a clearer picture of the activities on the Mediterranean through the conduct of routine information exchange on different ships.
Operation Sea Guardian became the successor of Active Endeavour in November 2016. This flexible operation has the potential to fulfil all the tasks of the NATO Maritime Security Operation (MSO). It currently operates on the Mediterranean and fulfils three MSO tasks: increasing maritime security capacity and supporting awareness of the situation at sea and the fight against maritime terrorism.
Take a look at the history of completed and ongoing NATO missions and operations here.
Read more about the operations and missions with Estonian participation on the Ministry of Defence website. And on the website of the Defence Forces here.