Three hundred Irish soldiers, including eight fathers and sons, are to be deployed to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) next month. Minister of State for the Department of Defence, Paul Kehoe, Chief of Staff for the Defence Forces, Lieutenant-General Sean McCann, and Councillor Jim Henson reviewed the troops today in Athlone.
The review was the final phase of the battalion’s training as they get ready for their deployment next month.
At the review the Minister spoke of the proud tradition of Irish peacekeeping in the area. “I am again reminded of the great pride we can take in all that the Defence Forces have done and continue to do as peacekeepers throughout the world”.
Irish troops have been carrying out peacekeeping operations in the Middle East since 1958 and began working as part of UNIFIL in 1978. They are currently operating under the UN resolution which aims to monitor the end of hostilities between Israel and Lebanon, assist the Lebanese government in securing its borders, and ensure humanitarian access to the civilian population.
“Participation in missions such as UNIFIL is a continuation of our proud tradition of supporting the United Nations in the cause of peace and security”, Mr Kehoe said.
The regiment, which is made up of 300 Irish troops and 177 Finnish troops, is set to depart for the Middle Eastern country on the 6th and 15th of November. They will be taking over from the 106th Infantry Battalion which had been serving in the destabilised region with UNIFIL since May.
The minister acknowledged the challenges the men and women of the 107th infantry will face, alluding to the recent upheaval in the country and in the surrounding areas.
“We have all witnessed on our television screens just how volatile the Lebanon and the Middle East are at the moment. Performing your duties overseas can require considerable sacrifices. I know the dangers you will face and the hardships you will be expected to endure as part of your service overseas”.
Last week a Lebanese intelligence official, Brigadier General Wissam Al-Hassan, was killed when a car bomb went off in a residential area of Beirut.
The IrishFinn battalion, as it is known, will occupy a post just south of the village of At Tiri, chosen for its visibility of the surrounding areas and proximity to the smaller Irish UN posts.
A spokesperson for the Irish Defence Forces outlined the risks in deploying troops into the area – “There are real risks in operating in an area where there has been recent conflict. The area is a volatile environment and there is still debris, such as mines, left from previous wars. Troops heading to the Middle East have to be mindful of the dangers which can arise at any moment.”
When asked about how the events in Syria were affecting peacekeeping in the area they said “day to day operations have not been affected yet but geographically we are very close to the conflict zone so we have to be wary of that.”