IRISH troops could remain in conflict-riven Chad until 2011, it was confirmed last night.
The Defence Forces involvement in a European Union force (EUFOR) in the unstable central African country is set to expire next March.
However, Defence Minister Willie O'Dea last night indicated he was in favour of Irish involvement in a new United Nations mission which is set to take over from EUFOR.
Mr O'Dea's spokeswoman said the minister would sanction Irish involvement in the UN force "certainly for a year, if not two".
This could see the Defence Forces being involved in peace enforcement in Chad until March 2011. The news comes amid rising tensions in south-eastern Chad where the Irish contingent is based.
Sudanese-backed rebels have been gathering across the border in Darfur ahead of an anticipated assault on Chad's capital N'Djamena after two failed attempts to oust President Idriss Deby in the past two years.
Such an onslaught would have to come through the Irish operations area -- potentially putting Defence Forces personnel in the firing line.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon is expected to announce the composition of the new United Nations force on December 15.
The Cabinet has already agreed in principal to allowing the Defence Forces participate. However, this will need to be rubberstamped in the Dail.
The new UN mission -- expected to comprise 6,000 troops from Ireland, France, Poland, Ghana, and Nepal -- will be much larger in size than the current EUFOR contingent. This numbers just 3,500.
Ireland is expected to maintain its current troop number of around 380 soldiers for the new mission.
A Defence Forces' battalion has been patrolling an area of 77,000 square kilometres from their base, Camp Ciara, since last March -- with a mandate to protect camps full of refugees, humanitarian aid workers, and tens of thousands who fled their homes due to conflict in Chad.
The operation has been a major logistical triumph for the Defence Forces, which had to build a base from scratch in desert-like conditions.
Light artillery, Mowag armoured personnel carriers and other Army vehicles had to be shipped from Dublin to Doula in Cameroon and then driven almost 2,000 kilometres on mainly dirt roads to reach the camp in Goz Beida.
A whopping 2,800 litres of diesel per day is needed just to power the camp's generators.
Members of the local population met by the Irish Independent still live in fear of a violent rebel offensive.
"They do expect rebels to come in this direction and of course people would be worried," said battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Kieran Brennan.