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Lt Col Denis Hanly who will lead the UN Mission to South Lebanon.
UN Mission

Irish officer: Ukraine crisis adding to challenges of Lebanese peacekeeping mission

347 Irish troops will deploy to South Lebanon in May as part of the UN Peacekeeping mission.

IRISH PEACEKEEPERS BELIEVE that increasing fuel prices and challenges around access to grain caused by the Ukraine crisis may impact their mission to Lebanon, according to the Defence Forces officer leading the operation.

Lt Col Denis Hanly has spent the last two weeks with the 347 Irish troops in the Glen of Imaal in County Wicklow putting the final touches on training.

In a unique departure the troops, gathered from across Ireland, will also deploy with nine members of the Armed Forces of Malta who will serve alongside their Irish counterparts.

The Irish Defence Forces have linked up with the naval and ground military of Malta regularly in recent years as the two small militaries share expertise.

Lt Col Hanly will lead the 120 Infantry Battalion to South Lebanon on 11 May when they will take up position protecting the blue line – a demarcation zone between Lebanon and Israel. 

The officer said that Covid-19 has been a particular problem for the Irish style of peacekeeping with significant difficulties meeting local people and engaging with the Lebanese people in the south of the country. 

“I think the economic challenges in Lebanon as well have made it more difficult, and it’s affected the local population. And ultimately, they’re the people who we’re there to protect and to help as well – and that’s a concern.

“Then I suppose the recent conflict in Ukraine, again, has led to increases in demand for increases in fuel costs.

“Simple things such as grain – 60% of the grain in Lebanon comes from Ukraine, so that will have an impact on the people as well.

“Peacekeeping is not really a simple operation for us, we have to include all of these sorts of factors in how we plan to do our job and how we plan to operate because that ultimately affects the environment we’re going to operate in,” he explained. / YouTube

The Commanding officer, who hails from Drumcondra in Dublin, is hugely experienced having joined the Defence Forces in 1990. He has served on five occasions overseas including trips to Lebanon, Kosovo, Afghanistan and the Golan Heights.  

Hanly said that before travelling much work is done by officers to understand the environment they are going into on deployment.

While Covid-19 is causing significant difficulties for the Lebanese a fractious political situation in the country saw a number of people killed in clashes in October 2021. 

The country is still facing the aftermath of the massive explosion in Beirut port while locals are also working to solve the social issues from decades of war.  

“Every time we deploy on a mission, one of the things we always look at is the operating environment, which we’re going into and that can be influenced by a number of factors.

“There are some economic challenges in Lebanon, and no more than Ireland actually, there’s an awful lot of echoes. The world has all been touched by the various issues in the last number of months and years,” Hanly explained. 

The Maltese troops deploying with the Irish Battalion have been in training in Ireland and their commanding officer has lived in Ireland during his officer training in the Curragh.

They will work alongside their Irish counterparts and have been engaged in live-fire exercises in Wicklow this week. 

Imaal Maltee Maltese and Irish troops conducting a tactical live fire practice in the Glen of Imaal, Wicklow. Irish Defence Forces Irish Defence Forces

The Irish Army has a long history in Lebanon with 47 Irish personnel killed in the country on peacekeeping missions. 

Hanly said that while military operations have calmed in the area there is still a need for strong monitoring of the geopolitical situation.

“It’s a dangerous, volatile part of the world. We’re very conscious of that. I think one of the lessons we’ve learned all through the years in all our various deployments, particularly in Lebanon, is the unpredictability and the volatile nature of our operations. 

“What appears to be a very minor incident can suddenly turn into a regional wide conflict.

“So as happened in 2006, which would have started as a minor incident originally on a border, and then would have ended up with a large scale incursion.

“So that’s what we’re very conscious of. It’s old fashioned peacekeeping operations, and low profile patrolling, it’s supporting the Government of Lebanon forces, the Lebanese Armed Forces, providing security securing the border area, and particularly the blue line,” he added. 

Imaal An Irish soldier takes up a firing position during tactical live fire training in Wicklow ahead of UN deployment. Irish Defence Forces Irish Defence Forces

The Irish soldiers will work alongside Polish and Hungarian troops as part of the broader IRISHPOLLBATT operation in the area. 

There are 20 frontline operational female troops in the group with 104 first time peacekeeping troops. 

The 120 Infantry Battalion is drawn from 26 counties across Ireland with Dublin, Louth and Kildare making the biggest contributions.