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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Estonia Forces Out Former U.S. Colonel

TALLINN, Estonia -- A retired U.S. colonel who fulfilled a childhood pledge when he came to Estonia to command its armed forces has been forced to step down following criticism he was too brash and heavy-handed.

Estonian President Lennart Meri said Sunday he reluctantly accepted a letter of resignation from Aleksander Einseln, 64, of Mountain View, California.

"I made this decision with a heavy heart," Meri said in a statement released by his office. "Einseln has given Estonia all his strength, all his love and ability."

But Meri, a long-time Einseln supporter, said the 35-year veteran of the U.S. military had become increasingly impatient and had erred by speaking out publicly about his grievances with other officials.

Meri said he could understand his increasing impatience, but could not accept it being transformed into political opinions "that have been transmitted to the public via the media."

Einseln, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars and once a staffer with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and NATO, fled Estonia as a boy when Soviet troops occupied the country in 1944.

As the ship carrying the 12-year-old to the West pulled out of the harbor Tallinn, Einseln vowed to return when Estonia was free.

He kept his promise when he was appointed Estonia's top military chief in 1993, after the nation won independence from Moscow, and was given the rank of lieutenant general.

But the burly, tough-talking Einseln quickly provoked controversy with regular tirades about the need to restore ethics and morality to Estonia after 50 years of corrupt Soviet rule.

Detractors stepped up their criticism after revelations that officers were running a gun-smuggling ring from Einseln's headquarters. Einseln was not implicated, but critics said he should be held responsible. The final straw appeared to have been a public feud with Estonian Defense Minister Andrus Oovel, who accused Einseln of beginning "to see himself as God."

Einseln set the tone of his command within months of taking charge of the armed forces by firing over half the officer corps, arguing that their Red Army training had rendered them useless and corrupt.

"I will not be the leader of rabble or some ... totalitarian Marxist-Leninist-thinking group of officers," he said in an interview last year.

Supporters, including many military observers abroad, say Einseln's no-nonsense style of command paid off and made Estonia's army one of the best in the former Soviet Union.

But Einseln steadfastly refused calls to tone down his rhetoric about society-wide corruption and incompetence and even supporters admitted it had eroded his once-strong popular support and it was time to step down.

Meri, in his Sunday statement, paid tribute to Einseln. "He has infused the spirit of democracy into the defense force," Meri said. "This has been a process of selfless giving ... and we have had little to offer him in return."

In a show of gratitude, Meri said he was promoting Einseln to general, the first Estonian soldier in 50 years to be given the rank. He also asked Einseln to stay in Estonia and head the nation's military academy.

Einseln had become a U.S. citizen and joined the U.S. army in 1950, serving for 35 years. His decision to accept the job of armed forces commander in Estonia angered the U.S. State Department, which, through Congress, stripped him of his U.S. passport and pension. But Congress later reversed its decision, giving both back.

His achievements in Estonia include writing Estonia's first army code of ethics, personally supervising the training of junior officers. He also fought against what he called the "inhuman practice" of hazing of new recruits.