Chad Peace force stretched to the limit…

Conor Lally adds a considerable amount of detail to the Chad story. Not least he detecting a slight deflation in Defence Minister Willie O’Dea’s bluff confidence that Irish forces had fulfilled all of their mandate. Lally confirms that apologies were forthcoming from UNHCR in Chad, Dublin and Geneva. But also that the original complaint that Irish troops had failed to protect the UN compound until after the danger had passed was true. Despite the Minister’s assertion at the time, the mandate does cover UN personnel (as noted here last Thursday). As Lally notes, the Minister on Morning Ireland was less than candid: “A statement released to the media cited the worsening security situation. It neglected to mention that it is the Irish troops who are mandated to keep the camps secure.” In fact a tiny detachment of Dutch troops were first on the scene.

It is hard to exaggerate just how vast Chad is and how isolated the 400 odd Irish troops are. But as Lally also notes the terrain is both flat and open, and significant movement on the ground is relatively easy to spot. Ariel surveillance falls to the French, who it seems have not quite got the Irish on their radar yet. There have been a number of incidents since the first deployments in March:

The problems for the Irish haven’t been confined to maintaining security for those covered by their mandate. Last month 30 members of the elite Army Ranger Wing happened upon 200 rebels while on patrol in a village near the border with Darfur. The rebels were armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns.

Fortunately, they agreed to talks with the Rangers through the Rangers’ interpreters. To the outnumbered Rangers’ immense credit, they talked themselves out of a very dangerous situation in a remote region with no other Eufor troops to call on for back-up.

Similarly, the conventional troops who returned warning fire towards rebels near Goz Beida last Saturday performed commendably. They showed enough strength to deter an attack without inflaming the situation.

But both incidents raise significant questions about how well we are communicating with our European partners in Eufor, particularly the French. France, the former colonial power in Chad, has contributed more troops than any other country to Eufor. Its fighter jets fly surveillance missions daily over Chad, a country twice the size of France with less than 400km of paved roads.

Convoys of rebel vehicles can be easily spotted moving across the sands below the French jets. But it seems the Rangers had no warning last month that they were driving into a village where 200 rebels had set down for a few days. Similarly, it seems the Irish troops last Saturday in and around Goz Beida had little or no intelligence about unfolding events.

There are questions not simply over whether the numbers are sufficient, but whether the equipment is sufficient. Initial assessments identified that the rebels were poorly equipped. They may only have soft topped vehicles, but heavy machine guns and rocket propelled grenades can do a far amount of damage. Lally detects a ministerial ‘wobble’:

Six months ago O’Dea said the rebels were “not in a position to engage well-equipped, trained and organised” armies such as the Irish.After his visit to Chad this week he sounded slightly less sure. In the first signs of Government jitters about the mission, he made a point of releasing a statement saying the Government was committed to retaining troops in Chad “up to March 2009 only”.

That’s when the mandate runs out. But it is unlikely to have been the planned end of the deployment. It looks like the Minister of Defence may have some tough choices ahead. Not least, whether he has sent enough troops. And perhaps some tough talking to do with his French counterpart.

  • EWI

    That’s when the mandate runs out. But it is unlikely to have been the planned end of the deployment.

    Actually, it is the planned end. I have it from my own, umm, sources in the PDF.

  • RepublicanStones

    Allowing a former colonial power to dictate the run of play, or even involve them in a peacekeeping/peace-enforcement mission is the height of stupidity. With French involvement, the indigenous factions are obviously going to be sceptical about the intentions of other participating nations, and therefore more willing to have itchy trigger fingers. If i remember correctly, the UN involved the Belgians in the Rwanada fiasco!!!! Will they ever learn.
    As regards the lads in Chad at the minute, its a dry trip, but lord knows they’ll have earned their beer come repatriation time !

  • Mick Fealty

    EWI:

    As I said, the mandate is only for one year. But I was going on Lally’s own speculation:

    “Many in the military believe that, given the expense of transporting almost 3,000 tonnes of equipment to the desert in Chad and building a camp there from scratch, a deployment of less than two years would not be justified in value for money terms.”

  • Turgon

    I am no expert on this but as far as I know the Irish army has always had a very good reputation as a peace keeping force. One of the problems now is that increasingly the line between peace keeping and peace making has become blurred.

    The dangers to troops are very evident as even relatively poorly trained people with assault rifles and RPGs can cause massive damage and deaths and there are just so many firearms available in Africa. One solution is of course to move about in proper tanks and heavy armoured personal carriers yet that is hopeless in terms of hearts and minds. Also the small number of troops deployed is a poor deterrent to violence unless they charge about in tanks and attack jets killing people which will of course lose hearts and minds. One of the few places in Africa where peace keeping / making has really worked fairly well is Sierra Leone but that involved a fairly unique set of circumstances.

    Whatever happens the Irish probably need more troops and more stuff but of course open ended involvement is unsurprisingly unpopular with public opinion.

  • RepublicanStones

    Lebanon was a lesson for the DF, I doubt we would want to get bogged down for that many a year again. Kosovo is a dead mission, a 6 month break for most of the troops, of all nationalities. The perogative is 2-3 years at most, in, out, and let the natives shake it all about afterwards. Rumour is, Chad, after a year this is going to be extended undr a different auspice. The Kosovo mission is still NATO, under a UN mandate, which is why Ireland is able to participate. The medals the soldiers recieve for the Kosovo mission carry a bar with ‘Non Article 5’ embossed on it.

  • EWI

    As I said, the mandate is only for one year. But I was going on Lally’s own speculation:

    “Many in the military believe that, given the expense of transporting almost 3,000 tonnes of equipment to the desert in Chad and building a camp there from scratch, a deployment of less than two years would not be justified in value for money terms.”

    As I said, the word I’m hearing back is that the rank and file are being told it’s one year. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it were extended, depending on the circumstances.

    p.s. the “value for money” argument is BS. If they want to get a tour or two more of troops through for the purposes of giving them overseas experience (and to get a few more ticks on some officers’ CVs for promotion) then they need to come up with some better reason.

    One solution is of course to move about in proper tanks and heavy armoured personal carriers yet that is hopeless in terms of hearts and minds.

    The problem with giving heavy weaponry to someone supposed to be keeping the peace is that you run the risk of such tactics becoming a first (or at least not last) resort, rather than trying to negotiate a solution (let’s call this the “US Army Syndrome”).

  • Mick Fealty

    EWI:

    “The problem with giving heavy weaponry to someone supposed to be keeping the peace is that you run the risk of such tactics becoming a first (or at least not last) resort, rather than trying to negotiate a solution.”

    Indeed. But there is a concern that they are well enough equipped to fully deter any further attacks. The RTE report above also notes that the Irish troops are wearing jungle uniforms to distinguish them from the French. But as I’ve said above, the Minister needs to make sure there is sufficient surveillance to give the Irish warning of any future mass movements in their sector…

  • RepublicanStones

    Mick, I think as regards military operations, there will never been a utopian theatre for any army. I think the old quip about Lions being led by Donkeys is always going to have some resonance !

  • runciter

    This so-called ‘peacekeeping’ is just anther form of imperialism.

    Irish soldiers should not be supporting corrupt African regimes for the benefit of Western oil companies.

  • Turgon: Ireland has a good name because they allowed Israeli and Hezbolllah wankers kill them. The UNi is a discredited outfit and its soldiers are more known for their propensity to rtape kids (Haiti, Sudan, Congo currently) than for fighting fire with fire.
    Runciter: Irish troops HAVE TO do this. How else can they get combat experience to suppress the coming insurrection?

  • EWI

    Turgon: Ireland has a good name because they allowed Israeli and Hezbolllah wankers kill them.

    And Christian Falange, who then get sanctuary in the States. Where they’re completely safe, because the Irish Government hasn’t got the balls to try to extradite murderers who’ve been taken in by a grateful Uncle Sam.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/95479496@N00/199982477/

    The UNi is a discredited outfit and its soldiers are more known for their propensity to rtape kids (Haiti, Sudan, Congo currently) than for fighting fire with fire.

    “It’s soldiers” are, more frequently than no, piss-poor rabble from Bangladesh or other places. First- and second-rate powers are unwilling to get involved unless there’s some pressing political advantage in doing so. The solution to this problem is obvious (a standing, professional UN army) but likely to drive knuckle-draggers in the US into finally declaring the UN an opposing power/World Government/what have you (as opposed to their current threats merely to invade the Netherlands if an American is ever arrested for war crimes).

    Runciter: Irish troops HAVE TO do this. How else can they get combat experience to suppress the coming insurrection?

    Yes, my friend, the day of the West Wicklow Liberation Army draws ever closer…

    (Those who know, know 😉