More Irish soldiers to boost peace operation
Ireland is to almost double its military involvement in a country that has the most dangerous peacekeeping mission in the world.
Additional troops are being sent to Mali in west Africa as part of the Government's response to a call for help from France to its EU partners after the terrorist atrocity in Paris last November.
France was anxious to withdraw some of its military personnel from international peacekeeping missions to bolster security at home.
Ireland agreed to provide additional personnel on the basis that it would not breach the country's neutrality or put the lives of Irish soldiers in danger while deployed on other missions around the world.
Mali was plunged into conflict after its president was ousted in a military coup in 2012 and its forces divided into several factions, with one group hijacked by Islamist extremists.
After the EU set up a peacekeeping force, Ireland initially agreed to send 10 troops to join British personnel in a 24-person training team.
It was the first time Irish and British troops were deployed together on an operation involving standard military training as well as programmes in international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians and human rights.
Six of the Irish personnel formed an infantry training group within the British team and the rest joined headquarters and logistical staff.
Earlier this year, the mission mandate changed to using mobile training teams travelling to various regions.
However, the Irish will not be contributing to those teams and personnel will be deployed only in Koulikoro and Bamako.
Last week, Ireland's deployment increased to 13 and will be boosted to 15 next month, with three more in September.
The Irish are now primarily deployed in logistics and technical roles.
Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe told the Irish Independent last night that he would continue to keep Ireland's partic- ipation in the mission under review.
However, the Irish are all deployed in relatively safe jobs and will not be active in danger zones.
The Irish have no connection with another UN mission, Minusma, regarded as the most dangerous in the world, suffering more than 50 fatalities among its 10,000-strong contingent since 2013 as a result of improvised explosions, rocket strikes and suicide attacks.