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Cablegate: Update On Estonia's Development Assistance To

DE RUEHTL #0432/01 1790656
R 280656Z JUN 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) 06 TALLINN 311 B) 06 TALLINN 1131

1. (SBU) Summary. Afghanistan remains one of the
Government of Estonia's (GOE) highest foreign policy
priorities. The GOE has been increasing its direct
development assistance to Afghanistan since 2006, to
balance its military presence in the country. The
presence of Estonia's first diplomat on the ground has
produced tangible results (e.g., hospital equipment for
a Helmand hospital) and improved the optics of Estonia's
presence in Helmand. Despite recently sustaining
casualties in Helmand, Estonia is committed to having a
presence -- civilian and military -- in Afghanistan. End

Improving the Substance and Optics of Assistance
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. (U) Afghanistan continues to be one of Estonia's
highest foreign policy priorities. In January 2006, the
GOE increased both its military contribution and
development assistance to Helmand province in southern
Afghanistan (Ref A). The GOE has consistently
highlighted its commitment to NATO's mission in
Afghanistan with visits at the highest level by the
Prime Minister in December 2006 (Ref B) and Defense
Minister in September 2006 and again this coming fall.

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3. (U) Prior to 2006, the GOE's development assistance
was limited to financial donations to international
organizations (IOs) and NGOs operating in Afghanistan.
From 2000 to 2005, the GOE donated $200,170 for
humanitarian assistance and counter-narcotics programs
to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees
(UNHCR), UN Development Program (UNDP), and the Red
Cross. However, in line with Estonia's military
presence in Helmand, the MFA felt strongly that it
needed to balance the optics of Estonia's presence with
a visible development and reconstruction agenda. As a
result, in June 2006, the MFA sent its first diplomat to
Afghanistan and initiated a provincial reconstruction
project in Helmand.

Work on the Ground

4. (U) Estonia's assistance budget in Afghanistan is
relatively small - $100,000 for Helmand, out of the
MFA's total 2006 development assistance budget of $1.47
million. The MFA recognized that this would require
Estonia's assistance to focus on projects where the aid
could have an immediate and/or visible impact on the
community. In November 2006, the MFA initiated a
donation of $94,453 worth of medical equipment to the
Children's Department of Bost Hospital, Helmand
Province's main hospital. Recently back from
Afghanistan, Estonia's diplomat on the ground, Toomas
Kahur, told us that even though the hospital donation
was important, establishing a diplomatic presence in
Helmand was Estonia's most significant achievement in

5. (SBU) As the MFA's first major out-of-area
development assistance project, Afghanistan has
presented unique challenges. Not surprisingly,
according to Kahur, the two biggest challenges have been
logistics and security. Kahur spent over a third of his
time in Afghanistan traveling between Kabul and Helmand.
While the MFA has indicated that it would like to have
two diplomats in Afghanistan (one in Kabul and the other
in Helmand), it also acknowledges that personnel
limitations make an increase in staffing unlikely in the
short to mid-term. The MFA is concerned that logistical
difficulties may increase in the short term. The
Estonians stationed in Afghanistan, both military and
civilian, are largely dependent on UK logistical support
for travel between Helmand and Kabul. Kahur said that
due to the limited number of UK helicopters and planes,
there were often delays. He is concerned that these
delays are likely to grow given that the UK took over
responsibility for Kandahar (an important transfer hub)
from the U.S. in June.

6. (SBU) The security situation placed strict
limitations on Kahur throughout his tenure. Kahur told
us that whenever he went outside the UK base he had to
be escorted by an Estonian Close-Protection-Team. This
extra security came at the cost of mobility and,
therefore, limited his range of operations. Moreover,
civilians are not allowed to leave the base when the UK

TALLINN 00000432 002 OF 002

forces deem threat levels as high. This is a frequent
occurrence in Helmand -- which is the epicenter of poppy
production in Afghanistan and has seen an increase in
the level of Taliban activity and attacks over the last
year. Kahur admitted that he was often far more
productive in Kabul in exploring assistance projects for
Helmand than in Helmand itself. However, Kahur was
optimistic that the widening network of contacts he
established among NGOs, IOs, and other countries'
missions operating in Helmand will enable the MFA to
expand its activities in spite of the security

7. (SBU) On June 27, Kahur's replacement, former
Estonian DCM in Washington Andres Kolk, left for
Afghanistan. He will have an increased assistance
budget of $120,000 for 2007 and the flexibility to
decide on project priorities. In the mid-term, MFA
Security and Arms Control Director Arti Hilpus told us,
the MFA envisions complimenting its diplomatic presence
with an Estonian development/humanitarian assistance
specialist, medical doctor, and/or civil engineer who
could to take a more pro-active role in the
implementation and supervision of assistance projects.
Hilpus added that in the long term, he would like to see
Estonia's development and reconstruction assistance
become larger and more visible than Estonia's military

8. (SBU) Comment. While the MFA's 2007 assistance
budget for Helmand is small in absolute terms, it
represents one of the its larger projects. Even with
recent casualties, that included two killed, in Helmand
on June 23 (septel), Estonia's political leaders and MOD
and MFA interlocutors have expressed their commitment to
Estonia's presence in Afghanistan, on both the military
and civilian side.


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