Army won't have force abroad for first time in 30 years
Published 13/03/2010 | 05:00
The Defence Forces are likely to be left without a major overseas mission for the first time in more than three decades.
This follows the decision of the authorities in Chad to refuse to agree to the United Nations force remaining there for another year.
Irish troops are also ending their involvement in the Balkans early next month and the two withdrawals will result in fewer than a hundred troops scattered in small groups around the world.
The mandate for the Chad mission, known as Minurcat, was due to expire on Monday.
However, the UN's security council yesterday provided a small glimmer of hope for the mission when they approved a temporary extension of the mandate for two months until May 15 after talks with the Chadian government.
President Idriss Deby has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of the military component of Minurcat, stating that Chadian forces should now take over responsibility for security.
He agreed to the extension during talks with the UN under secretary general for peacekeeping operations, Alain Le Roy.
Mr Le Roy also discussed a compromise deal, which would mean that the existing mission would remain but would not reach its intended full strength.
This move would reduce its mission area with the elimination of the southern sector, where the Irish are based, and also result in the withdrawal of troops.
The Defence Forces have 410 soldiers based in Chad and another 230 in Kosovo and Bosnia.
Last year the McCarthy report recommended that the troops be pulled out of Chad as a cost-saving measure, but the proposal was rejected.
The Government is committed to providing a maximum of 850 troops to the UN for overseas missions, but from May could be left with only a 10th of that figure serving abroad.
The reduction is seen by senior military officers as a disaster as overseas missions are the "lifeblood" of the organisation.
An unplanned withdrawal from Chad in May will put intense pressure on the Government to urgently find a new mission.
There had been reports that the Irish could be asked to return to Lebanon, where they had been based for more than 20 years, but military sources in Dublin said last night that this option was no longer on the table.
Pulling out of Chad will cost an estimated €20m and will involve a massive logistical exercise by road and rail to Cameroon and then by plane back to Dublin.
It is expected that Major General Dave Ashe, the acting Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, will brief Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who is currently acting defence minister, on March 30.