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Irish troops prepare for biggest logistical challenge in 10 years as they withdraw from Syria

About 280,000 pieces of equipment, worth close to €23m, to be shipped home by sea

The Defence Forces is preparing for the “mammoth” task of repatriating hundreds of tonnes of equipment from Syria as it winds down its peacekeeping mission there.

Irish troops and equipment are due to return to Ireland early next month following the Government’s decision to cease contributing personnel to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) which monitors the border between Syria and Israel.

It will be the most complex and challenging logistical operation undertaken by the Defence Forces since 2014 when an Irish battalion of peacekeepers was withdrawn from Chad.

About 280,000 pieces of equipment, worth in the region of €23 million, are to be shipped home by sea. This includes 14 Mowag armoured personnel carriers that weigh 20 tonnes each.


Since 2014, Irish troops have acted as the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) for the Undof mission. The QRF is tasked with deploying on 15 minutes’ notice to all areas of the mission in the event peacekeepers come under attack.

During the course of the mission, it has been involved in several dramatic incidents, including the rescue of Filipino peacekeepers who had been abducted by an Islamic militant group during the Syrian civil war.

The repatriation of the equipment will be a “mammoth task”, said Capt Andrew O’Neill, a logistics officer with the 68th Infantry Group in Syria.

“It was daunting at first. This isn’t something we started a couple of weeks ago. This has been a long process from the very start when we first formed up in July.”

Ireland is withdrawing from Undof to free up troops for the newly revamped EU Battlegroup. Ireland is contributing a mechanised infantry company, numbering about 180 troops, to the German-led Battlegroup.

Capt O’Neill said the logistical operation will involve shipping home the Mowags and armoured utility vehicles, along with engineering, explosive ordnance disposal and specialised search equipment.

The equipment will be loaded into containers and transported by truck across the border into Lebanon before being loaded on to a specially chartered ship in the port of Beirut.

It will take the ship about 21 days to return to Ireland. Due to the precarious security situation in Lebanon, a backup port has been identified as a contingency, Capt O’Neill said.

Some equipment, such as spare parts, has already been shipped to Irish troops serving in southern Lebanon as part of the Unifil mission. Additional equipment was transferred to Unifil on Sunday and a small number of Mowags and armoured jeeps will be sent there next month.

Irish troops are due to hand over QRF duties to peacekeepers from Kazakhstan in April. Defence Forces personnel have already started carrying out joint patrols with the new Kazakhstani troops.

The 68th Infantry Group comprises 130 soldiers. Since 2013, Irish troops have served 2,600 individual tours of duty in Syria. Following the withdrawal next month, a small number of Irish officers will remain with Undof’s headquarters staff.

Ireland will continue to provide a small number of officers to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation, an unarmed mission that also operates in Syria.

The Government has also indicated it many expand Ireland’s contribution to Unifil.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times