“Yes, we have the right to ask about the effectiveness of such a force in Chad…”

One thing that ought to give EU leaders some pause for thought in their dealing with the recalcitrant Irish electorate, is the current position of 500 Irish troops in an EU frontline peace keeping force in Chad. They are stationed just outside the small town of Goz Beida under UN resolution 1778, with a specific mandate to protect refugees. On Saturday last, a rebel column attacked the town and injured 24 people. Reuters reports that they also attacked Irish troops with RPGs.According to APF, “there are nearly 80,000 displaced Chadians and some 36,000 refugees from neighbouring Sudan’s war-battered Darfur region” living in camps around Goz Beida. Until the Irish moved in they were vulnerable to attack from rebel forces. This particular attack is part of an rebel offensive aimed ultimately at the Chadian capital Ndjamena, and part of an ongoing see-sawing battle of wits between Sudan (which accuses Chad of supporting recent Sudanese Darfuri attacks on Khartoum in May) Chad. It will end when the rainy season comes in and closes down any possibility of further military engagement.

The rebels themselves are thought to be generally poorly armed, and Goz Beida was not considered to be a primary target on this occasion at least. Indeed the objective of Saturday’s raids may simply have been the acquisition of vehicles (they claim to have captured twenty) to facilitate the planned advance on Ndjamena.

Nevertheless, this is potentially the Republic’s toughest overseas military assignment in recent years. Not simply because of the climate (temperatures rarely fall below 50 degrees) and the inhospitable terrain, but because the current instability across the border in Sudan, where an estimated 250,000 have died and a further 2 million have become refugees, holds the potential to tip the whole region into chaos, despite the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005.

One of the fall outs from Saturday’s attack began when Chadian President Idriss Deby accused Eufor of “closing its eyes” to the actions of advancing anti-government rebels. The Irish Times reported on Monday (subs needed):

In a broadcast to the nation, the Chadian leader said his government had been happy to receive this EU military contingent when it deployed earlier this year.

“But we’ve been surprised to see that, in its first hostile test, this force has rather co-operated with the invaders, allowing humanitarian workers’ vehicles to be stolen and their food and fuel stocks burned and closing its eyes before the systematic massacre of civilians and refugees.”

He added: “Yes, we have the right to ask ourselves about the effectiveness of such a force, of the usefulness of its presence in Chad.”

That was compounded when a UNHCR spokeswoman criticised the Irish troops for failing to step in when around 800 heavily armed rebels looted a UN compound:

“If a humanitarian base is attacked, and we were, logic tells you they should have protected us,” said Annette Rehrl via telephone from Abeche in eastern Chad. “Maybe they have a different understanding of the mandate.”

Defence Minister Willie O’Dea yesterday claimed he had an ‘apology’ from Jose Fischel de Andrade, a representative from the UN in Goz Beida. Setting aside for one moment at that that’s not the same organisation, the controversy does highlight a differential reading of the precise nature of the mandate. Minister O’Dea again:

“The fact of the matter is that Eufor troops can’t act as police, or judges, juries etc, they have a very specific mandate and are acting under that UN mandate to come out here and protect internally displaced people and refugees from Dafur and they are performing that mandate marvelouslly.

“There are only 3,700 Eufor troops in a country which is about three times the size of France and which has some 10 million people. Our assets are spread very thinly… we have a very specific mandate, which is to protect a specific category of people. The Irish government didn’t draw up the mandate, I didn’t draw up the mandate…the UN did and we have to behave strictly in accordance to the terms thereof.”

Though from the information available, and a close reading of the mandate, it is not entirely clear what excludes the protection of a civilian UN base. Irish troops under EUFor command are empowered by the UN Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations:

* (i) To contribute to protecting civilians in danger, particularly refugees and displaced persons;

* (ii) To facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and the free movement of humanitarian personnel by helping to improve security in the area of operations;

* (iii) To contribute to protecting United Nations personnel, facilities, installations and equipment and to ensuring the security and freedom of movement of its staff and United Nations and associated personnel.

There would seem to be a gap between the Minister’s thinking and the actual mandate itself.

Saturday was little more than a skirmish, and despite the Chadian President’s accusation on Sunday, there doesn’t appear to have been any fatalities. But there is no knowing how this situation will pan out. The minister surely owes it to the troops in Goz Beida, to get it straight before anything more serious happens. Never mind the civilians they have been sent there to protect.

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  • circles

    This was always going to be a tricky one.

    Following the last breathtakingly rapid rebel advance and attack on Ndjamena, which had them knocking at the doors of the presidential palace and their equally swift departure from the capital with the French on their heels, the EUFor troops were in a no win situation from the start. The French have been flirting with Deby for a long time and following their recent miltiary assistance (which they neither confirmed or denied as afr as I know) President Deby freed french prisoners who were being held for trying to smuggle chuldren out of the country (The Arche de Zoe affair).
    The EUFor troops therefore seemed to be the french taking another angle at their (post?)colonial politics in Chad, and any country who decided to go with them on this ran the very real risk of siding with the French (who are running the show) and thus the government. Not the best starting position for such a delicate mission, and surely deserving of a lot more consideration.

    There is no doubt that this is the southern government’s most dangerous military assignment in years Mick, not least because of the behaviour of the French in this whole affair – although Deby seems to be trying to ease things by accusing them of siding with the rebels.
    Apparently though yesterday the rebels, who have their sights set again on Ndjamena, took a hammering at the hands of government troops – according to government reports anyway. The rebels tell another story.
    While I think Ireland does have a duty to participate in such missions, I’m not convinced that the government has enough of an understanding of the situation to actually be making informed decisions. Standing by the French in this, who have the habit of talking out of both sides of their mouth whilst manipulating West Africa, does not seem very wise.

  • Greenflag

    Minster O’Dea needs to make sure he does’nt have the Irish troops ending up looking like the Dutch did after the Srebenica massacre in the former Yugoslavia when the Dutch stood ‘idly’ by while the Serbs separated 8,000 male Muslims from their wives and children and executed them in premeditated genocidal fashion. I believe there’s a court case now in process in the Hague at which the Dutch Government is being sued by the wives and families of the Srebenica victims for ‘failure’ to adhere to the UN mandate .

    O’Dea needs to tell the troops that if they are fired on they fire back . Do we want another Niemba fiasco with osome of our soldiers being carried off by a mob to be the main meat ingredient at an al fresco barbecue ?

  • Mick Fealty

    They also don’t want to become targets either… Precision is the essence… and that appears to be missing, at Ministerial level never mind further down the chain of command…

  • +1 Greenflag. I hope the Army has insisted on robust Rules of Engagement, otherwise we might as well bring them home and send in Guards with batons.

  • Blue Hammer

    >>>> Reuters reports that they also attacked Irish troops with RPGs. <<<<

  • BfB

    Are these ‘rebels’ muslim fundamentalists? They are supported by Sudan, are they not? Will the Irish/EU soldiers be killed by ‘rebels’ or Sudanese soldiers? Is their reluctance to fight because of the ‘rebels’ religion? Are the Janjaweed involved? Seems the EU has gotten the lads in the middle of it, treaty or not. The Darfur conflict is tangled in with this…. More to come, I’m sure.

  • BfB

    I’d hold off on any trade center type buildings over 10 stories.

  • The Irish have the right too return fire. Hopefully, they will and begin the body bag count. A few dead Paddies might move things along. Revenge for Niemba.

  • Greenflag

    mark dowling ,

    ‘I hope the Army has insisted on robust Rules of Engagement, otherwise we might as well bring them home and send in Guards with batons.’

    Indeed -I always worry when ‘politicians ‘ start getting involved in military matters particularly in the field . History is replete with politicians putting on the uniform and playing general or emperor with the usual catastrophic results for all concerned .

    Mick ,

    ‘They also don’t want to become targets either… Precision is the essence… and that appears to be missing, at Ministerial level never mind further down the chain of command… ‘

    Following up on the Lisbon fiasco they can ill afford another one . As to not becoming targets I’m reminded of another politician who lost his bearings because of the fog of war . Woodrow Wilson ordered the invasion of newly Communist Russia in 1918 while WWI was still in progress. Wilson also gave his general in charge explicit orders NOT TO CAUSE TROUBLE . The unfortunate general soon found out that if you are going to invade a country or overthrow a government -you should expect that the inhabitants and even the government of the country you are attacking may notice your presence – and may indeed become even upset so much that they start shooting at you .

    Whoever it was who said that a politician is a man who’ s willing to lay down your life for his country -got it right .

  • RepublicanStones

    The lads in Chad will each be carrying the little blue rules of engagement card….’do this, but only if this, this, this, this, this, and this cannot be done first’. Never mind the empty headed officers that’ll be giving the orders.

    ‘I suppose it makes a change from Irish authorities arming thugs with RPGs to fire at the Crown Forces in this part of the United Kingdom’

    Glue Hammer, not only is this utter bollox, but it seems you have only a very recent scope for memory.