Wednesday 16 October 2019

Army Rangers set to join UN peace mission in war-torn Mali

The most dangerous United Nations mission in the world

Irish Army Rangers in training. File photo
Irish Army Rangers in training. File photo
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

A CONTINGENT from the Army Ranger Wing, the special operations group within the Defence Forces, is to join the most dangerous United Nations mission in the world.

The UN peace enforcement mission, Minusma, in war-torn Mali, has suffered 125  fatal casualties since 2013, including 18 deaths so far this year, as a result of improvised explosive devices, rocket strikes and suicide attacks.

Approval for the deployment is expected to be given by the Government at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, on the recommendation of Defence Minister Paul Kehoe.

This will be the first deployment of the Rangers as an unit in overseas duties since their special forces role in Chad in 2008.

More than a dozen Rangers will be sent, either in the late summer or early autumn, and will be based with the mission — on a four-month rotation — for two years.

The Government adopted a cautious approach to the offer to send the Rangers when it was received last year and Mr Kehoe ordered a comprehensive review of the possibility of Irish deployment with Minusma by military management and his own senior officials.

This involved getting detailed information on the mission and its operations, consideration of the role which the Defence Forces might carry out there, how such a deployment fitted with military capabilities and a thorough threat analysis and assessment.

The Rangers are an elite military unit, trained and equipped to undertake a range of specialist roles and their capability is regarded as a significant asset to the State.

The Rangers have been previously deployed on UN peacekeeping operations in East Timor, Liberia and Chad.

Minusma is described as a significant UN peace enforcement mission, comprising both regular and special operations forces and high end capabilities.

The Defence Forces currently have no personnel serving with Minusma but have a detachment with a separate UN mission in Mali, dedicated to training local military.

The Irish are all deployed in relatively safe jobs and are not active in danger zones.

The increasing instability in the Sahel region of sub-Sahara Africa is recognised by the UN as a very significant threat while the area is also the centre of major crime, including people trafficking, unregulated migration, international terrorism and smuggling.

Ireland has already declared it has a key interest in contributing to security and stability in Western Africa, which is a prime focus of the development aid programme.

Aid officials are concerned that development cannot progress in the absence of a safe and secure social and economic environment.

Mr Kehoe is likely to tell his colleagues that, as a committed supporter of UN action in the region, Ireland cannot remain aloof from this international effort, despite the risks involved.

Having studied the military advice, the minister is expected to recommend that a deployment from the Ranger Wing would have the capacity to contribute to the effectiveness of Minusma in establishing stability.

As part of the “triple lock mechanism” for military deployment overseas, the Government, with UN and Cabinet approval, will then seek the go-ahead from the Dail. The Ranger Wing will form a “significant element” within a 148-strong military detachment participating in a German-led battlegroup, which will be on stand-by for the second half of 2020.

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