Irish troops prepare for high-risk mission to Syria
Published 28/08/2014 | 02:30
Roadside bombs and Islamist extremists linked to the Isis terror group, which beheaded American journalist James Foley, are just some of the dangers facing Irish soldiers, as they embark on peacekeeping duties in the Middle East.
A contingent of 130 are finalising plans to serve six months in the volatile Golan Heights area, as tensions on the Israeli-Syrian border continue to escalate.
The soldiers - both male and female - attached to the 46th Infantry Group are currently conducting exercises in the Glen of Imaal in Co Wicklow.
They will be deployed as part of the United Nations Disengagement Observation Force (UNDOF), and will operate from the Syrian side of the border from next month.
The deployment includes officers and soldiers who have previously served on Middle East peacekeeping duties. They will take over from the 44th Infantry Group and will be the third Irish unit to serve with UNDOF.
The current round of training allows the departing troops to face a series of scenarios involving simulated explosive strikes, air mobile helicopter drills, anti-ambush tactics, plus preparing detailed operational planning, and medical evacuation exercises.
"There are a number of mines in the area; serving overseas is never easy.
"When you leave young children and a wife behind, Christmas is particularly hard," said father-of-two Commandant Owen McNally from Calverstown, Co Kildare. "While they're not used to it, they understand, and support me going over."
He is an Infantry officer with 25 years' service in the Defence Forces.