THE LAST OF the 340 Irish troops who have been serving with the 108th UNIFIL Battalion in Lebanon will fly into to Dublin Airport at around 1pm this afternoon.
Their replacements from the 170-strong 42nd Infantry Group have flown out over the last week or so, and are now settling into their new digs at ‘Camp Shamrock’ ahead of a six month tour-of-duty. 171 personnel from the last deployment are due home this afternoon; the rest flew back last week.
The soldiers have taken part in a number of special projects in recent months, including 13 humanitarian projects, programmes to install water pumps and generators, and a ‘community integration’ effort which involves Irish troops teaching English to local schoolchildren.
It’s a joint Irish-Finnish UNIFIL mission: on the next six-month deployment a Finnish commander will be in charge, taking over from Ireland’s Lieutenant Colonel Tony McKenna.
Lieutenant Colonel Ray Yorke, from Edgeworthstown in Longford is the new commander of the Irish troops, who are headquartered around around 7 km from the blue line boundary between Lebanon and Israel, south of the village of At Tiri.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon was established in 1978 following the withdrawal of Israel’s troops, with the aim of restoring peace and security. Its mandate has been renewed every year since.
In excess of 400 Irish troops will be spending Christmas overseas this year, in Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere.