Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Irish troops come under fire, from all directions

Above, Irish troops digging in outside Goz Beida, Eastern Chad.

On Saturday last Irish troops came under fire from an unclear source. It occurred during a clash between the Chadian Army and approximately 800 rebels. The incident happened about three miles form Goz Beida, the Chadian town on the border with Sudan where the 400 Irish troops of the 97th Infantry Battalion are based. The EUFOR mission is mandated by the UN to set up refugees camps and protect civilians but is forbidden to interfere in the Chadian civil war. The Irish soldiers fired warning shots and then took up a defensive position around the refugee camps. There were no Irish casualties.

Lt General Dermot Early, Defence Minister willie O'Dea and Commander Col Derry Fitzgerald inspecting Camp Ciara yesterday.

However Irish troops have come under fire in more ways than one. After the military clash between government and rebel forces the rebels began to advance on Goz Beida. Fighting broke out in the town. Rebel forces then raided the UNHCR offices, the organisation tasked with setting up and running the refugee camps that the Irish are to protect. No UNCHR staff were harmed but they were naturally traumatized as many were held at gun point. EUFOR's mandate is to protect refugees but also UN staff. The Irish army has defended itself claiming that it simply was not there when the incident happened. When they did arrive they found the UN staff in a very distressed state and transferred them to Camp Ciara, the Irish base on the outskirts of Goz Beida. The incident has led to criticism that the Irish troops did not do enough to protect UN staff. The front page of The Irish Times today carries a headline Irish troops criticised by UN body for failing to protect staff. Apparently this accusation came from a staff member of UNCHR and not the organisation itself as a UN apology has since been offered to the Irish government. However one has to admit it is a bad reflection on the Irish mission that this has happened to UN staff that were under the protection of Irish troops. Defence Minister Willie O'Dea who is in Chad this week will have to clarify further what Ireland's role actually is the event that if there is a repeat of such an incident, Irish soldiers are in a position to act decisively.

In addittion to this criticism EUFOR has also been at the receiving end of harsh words from Chadian President Idriss Deby (pictured) who has claimed that the 3700 troops are turning a blind eye to rebel atrocities against Chadian civilians. I certainly hope Defence minister O'Dea and the Irish troops serving know to ignore the rantings of the Chadian dictator who clearly wants EUFOR to interfere on the side of the government forces.

It is evident that this mission is qiuckly becoming more complicated for Irish troops. Violence in the imediate area is clearly increasing and a make or break moment is inevitable where Irish troops will have to either act firmly or roll over. Lt General Pat Nash who is in overall command of EUFOR as well as Minister O'Dea will have to be tough and not allow themselves to be bullied by either the rebels or the Chadian government. The Irish Mandate is clear and it should be adhered to aggressively. Gubu World wishes the 400 Irish troops the best of luck and will post regularly on their progress.

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