In 2000 South Africa deployed three staff officers: an Operation Plan Officer, an Information Officer and an Engineer Cell Warrant Officer as well as two Military Observers in support of the United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE). This was at the request of the United Nations' department of peacekeeping operations.

The African Union (then still called the Organisation of African Unity) had brokered a peace deal between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1999, which ended an armed conflict between the two east African countries.

South Africa was further requested by the AU to deploy two additional staff officers, a Capital Liaison Officer in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and a Liaison Officer in the Organisation of African Unity Liaison Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (OLMEE) in Asmara. An additional SANDF member and a senior military representative were sent for deployment later and had operational control over all military persons deployed under OLMEE.

Several extension requests kept the SANDF on the ground for UNMEE and OLMEE missions until 2008, when South Africa pulled out because of continued disputes over the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia as well as a number of restrictions from the Eritrean government, all of which resulted in UNMEE not being able to execute its mandate.

Operation Espresso was officially terminated when the last South African military observer returned home in August 2008.