Wednesday 18 October 2017

Army's Syria mission delayed until 'end of month'

Tom Brady Security Editor

DEFENCE chiefs now expect all Irish peacekeeping troops to be on the ground on the Golan Heights in Syria by the end of the month after a delay in deployment.

An advance party of up to 30 troops from the 115-strong contingent was due to fly out to Beirut later this week and then move by road to the Lebanon-Syria border.

However, the United Nations headquarters in New York sent instructions to the troops, destined for the Undof mission, to remain here until administative obstacles at the border had been overcome.

It is now expected that the advance party will set out in about three weeks, followed shortly afterwards by the rest of the contingent.

But the delay is not creating any major problems for the Defence Forces.

One senior officer said: "Since there are administrative delays, its better for the troops to have a few extra days at home with their families rather than waiting somewhere in Beirut.

"Hold-ups are not unexpected, given the difficulties in Syria, and this is not the first time our deployment on a peace mission has been delayed," he added.

The Irish will operate as a force mobile reserve for the Undof mission, which has a total strength of 1,250 troops.

One of their roles will be to provide a quick reaction unit, which can be called out at short notice, and they will work alongside troops from the Fiji islands, Philippines, India and Nepal, covering an area which is more than 75 kilometres long and ranging up to ten kilometres wide in the extreme south.

The hilly terrain is dominated in the north by Mount Hermon, where a UN post is permanently manned.

The Irish will help to patrol a zone between areas controlled by Syria and Israel and no other military forces, apart from Undof, are allowed to operate there. They will use Mowag armoured personnel carriers for regular patrolling of the area and provide mutual support to Undof units located in observation posts there.

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