Friday 6 December 2019

'Over-arming troops will make them Isil targets'

Defence Minister Simon Coveney reviews the personnel of the 46th Infantry Group at Costume Barracks, Athlone. Photo: James Flynn/APX.
Defence Minister Simon Coveney reviews the personnel of the 46th Infantry Group at Costume Barracks, Athlone. Photo: James Flynn/APX.

Ralph Riegel and Tom Brady

DEFENCE Minister Simon Coveney has warned that over-arming Ireland's UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights could make them a target for Islamic radicals in the Syrian civil war.

Mr Coveney will today update the Cabinet on the UNDOF mission and whether he will recommend that Ireland dispatch fresh troops to Syria as part of a planned rotation.

However, the Cork TD admitted that the long-standing Golan Heights mission has been compromised by the emergence of well-armed Syrian rebel groups and Isis radicals.

These forced some isolated UN bases to be abandoned.

Last month, Syrian rebels kidnapped Fijian peacekeepers and a Filipino UN detachment had to be rescued by Ireland's UN rapid reaction force.

"Clearly the overall mission is somewhat compromised given what has happened," Mr Coveney said.

But he warned against the knee-jerk reaction of providing even more heavy weaponry for the Irish detachment.

Irish troops are currently equipped with Swiss-built MOWAG armoured personnel carriers as well as heavy machine guns and regular Steyr assault rifles.

"There is a balance to be had here - if you over-arm people in a Chapter Six (peacekeeping) environment, then you are creating potential targets for people that may want to acquire that weaponry," he said.

"We do not want UN peacekeeping troops to be a target for a group like al-Nusrah. Having said that, we do need to make sure that people can defend themselves."

Mr Coveney denied reports that Irish troops had sought permission to deploy the Javelin 'fire and forget' missile.

The missile represents one of Ireland's foremost anti-armour weapons.

"Having spoken to lots of people involved there was never a request to use that weapon, the Javelin (missile)."

"The issue of how heavily armed peacekeepers should be is something under discussion."

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News