herald

Monday 18 December 2017

Wait and see tactic for troops as dust settles on US strike

The current air strikes in Iraq against the Islamic State (IS) are designed to degrade and incapacitate their head quarters and lines of communication.

This means that the IS ability to engage in offensive operations against other forces will be diminished if not brought to an outright halt for the time being.

How does this impact on the Irish troops currently serving on the Golan Heights with the UNDOF mission?

As it stands, thankfully, there are no Islamic state militants operating in the UNDOF area. The Islamic militants in that area belong to an al-Qa'ida affiliate called Jabat-al-Nusra.

There have been no air strikes in this area and there are not likely to be any US led airstrikes in his area.

The current ability of the UNDOF troops to do their job in maintaining the 1974 line of separation between Israel and Syria has been enhanced with the recent reconfiguration of the strategic posture of the UN troops.

Most of the UNDOF troops, including the Irish quick reaction force, are now located in camps in or close to Israeli controlled territory.

This means that the UN forces are in a much better position to observe and defend themselves from attack.

Much has been made in recent days of the lack of Javelin missiles for use by the Irish reaction force. While these missiles would give an edge to troops coming under a direct attack from heavy armour, current estimations indicate that such a direct attack is highly unlikely.

The new positioning of the UNDOF troops give them much more security than the simple addition of heavier weapons.

It should be remembered that one of the chief instruments of defence for the Undof forces is the fact that they are carrying out a chapter six peacekeeping mission.

A more offensive posture without a change in mandate would simply heighten tensions, perhaps invite attack and result in a desire by militants to seize these heavier munitions.

The current position of Minister for Defence Simon Coveney is one of wait and see. He will undoubtedly wait for the dust to settle on the first airstrikes and watch to see if any elements of shock ripple into the UNDOF area of operation.

It would take a significant series of game changers on the ground in Syria to actually completely prevent the deployment of the new Irish company of troops standing by to travel to the Middle East.

However, when the troops do deploy as they most likely will, it will be a much easier operation to undertake because of the new strategic location of the UNDOF troops over the last ten days.

It should be remembered that for a peacekeeping mission with a mandate such as UNDOF's, security is not always best provided by the barrel of a gun.

safety

While undoubtedly the Irish troops with their armour and additional heavy weapons are an undoubted spine-stiffening presence to the UNDOF force, that is only part of the series of defensive tools at the disposal of the UN.

Security has also been enhanced by a series of low keydiplomatic communications both on the ground in Syria and at UN headquarters.

This, coupled, with an enhanced ability from the new positions to better observe UNDOF zone of disengagement, has most definitely enhanced the safety of Irish troops and most likely the continuance of the UNDOF mission.

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