Officer says Irish troops sufficiently trained for Syria mission
THE officer commanding the Irish peacekeepers being deployed to the Golan Heights in Syria later this week is confident his troops have been comprehensively trained.
Lieut Col Brendan Delaney said that even though they had a short lead-in to deployment, receiving the Government go-ahead in July, their training had been rigorous.
He admitted he had concerns about the conflict within Syria, but pointed out that Irish troops had been posted previously to trouble spots around the world.
The 115-strong contingent was reviewed yesterday by Defence Minister Alan Shatter at Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin.
The contingent ranges in age from 21 to 58 years and includes four women.
Cpl Claire Powell, from Dublin 7, is the most experienced female peacekeeper and served in Lebanon, Liberia and Kosovo.
After 12 years' service in the Army, she said her family were used to her being sent overseas and she argued that every career choice brought its own concerns.
She had no personal worries about being deployed in a trouble spot. "It's part of the job description," she said.
Lieut Col Delaney said the troops had been receiving training in how to deal with CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) problems from the time they were recruits.
They had undergone an intensive refresher course during their week-long training exercise at the Glen of Imaal in west Wicklow last week, and would also continue training during deployment on the Golan Heights.
But he said the troops would not be working in a chemical environment if there was an attack in the area – and the United Nations had an arrangement with the Israeli government that the peacekeepers could evacuate across the border.
He noted that the general standard of the Defence Forces was extremely high at the moment.
The training on the ground would also focus on cohesion, he added, as the 43rd infantry group has personnel from 15 counties.
As a mobile reserve for the UNDOF (observer force) mission, one of their main roles is to provide a quick reaction force, which can be called out at short notice.
Part of the contingent is due to fly out later this week, the rest within a fortnight.
The minister told the troops and their families that helping to maintain the 40-year-old ceasefire between Israel and Syria represented an important contribution to preventing further instability in the region.
Given the evolving security scenario in the UNDOF area, Mr Shatter said the UN security council had enhanced the self-defence capabilities of the mission, increasing the force strength to the maximum of 1,250 and improving its self-defence equipment.
Meanwhile it has emerged that an estimated 50 refugees fleeing Syria have been granted asylum in Ireland.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter said decisions still needed to be made regarding five other cases.
He also insisted Ireland hadn't "turned away anyone who sought political asylum" since the violence began.
The UN said yesterday the number of Syrian refugees had now passed the two million mark – up tenfold since last year. About half of this total are children.