Published on May 18th, 2015 | by Jim Lee


United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) troop rotation

Ireland’s current contribution of some 432 personnel to overseas missions reflects the Government’s continued commitment to the country’s responsibilities, in the area of international peace and security, having regard to overall size of our Defence Forces. The main overseas missions in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed are, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), with 199 personnel, and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Syria, with 138 Defence Forces personnel. Both of these missions are rotated on a six monthly basis using airlift capacity chartered in from the civil market.

United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)

Ireland has had a long association with UNIFIL since its establishment in 1978. The main Defence Forces battalion was withdrawn in 2001, after 23 years of service with UNIFIL. This followed the Israeli evacuation of their forces the previous year. However a token force of 11 Irish troops remained there as observers. Ireland again deployed a contingent to Lebanon in 2006, following the 34-day military conflict in Lebanon, northern Israel and the Golan Heights, during which Israel launched a ground invasion of southern Lebanon, and imposed an air and naval blockade. For an initial period of 12 months, a mechanised infantry company of 165 Irish troops, was deployed to support a Finnish Engineering company. An Irish Battalion, with around 480 troops, returned to the Lebanon in the summer of 2011. However, this was reduced to approximately 330 troops in May 2013 and again to around 180 troops in November 2013. Ireland has maintained its presence at this strength, which is essentially a reinforced mechanised Infantry Company, known as an Infantry Group. The UNIFIL area of operations and the deployment of the Finnish-led Irish Finnish Battalion is shown in this map. The Irish UNIFIL continent is made up of the HQ with 9 personnel, the 47th Infantry Group with 186 personnel and the UNIFIL Sector West HQ with 4 personnel.

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Jordan Aviation’s Boeing 767-204(ER), JY-JAG. Jim Lee

On 21st of November 2014, members of the 47th Infantry Group, departed Baldonnel at 14:18 on board Jordan Aviation’s Boeing 767-204(ER), JY-JAG, for their six month tour of duty in South Lebanon. The 47th Infantry Group, under the command of Lt Col Kevin McCarthy, are drawn primarily from the Army No 1 Brigade, encompassing personnel from the Munster and Connacht regions. During their deployment they were visited twice by the Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney (from 4th to 7th December 2014 and from 15th to 19th February), by President Michael D Higgins on 28th April and by various senior military officers.

47th Infantry Group returns home

The 47th Infantry Group returned to Dublin on 17th May and again the aircraft chartered was Jordan Aviation’s Boeing 767-204(ER), JY-JAG. In order to facilitate being met by their families and friends, Terminal 1, in Dublin Airport was the destination for the returning troops. The aircraft left Beirut at 06:35 local time and landed in Dublin at 10:18 (local), using the flight number, JAV7577. In order to operate the troop rotation, the aircraft had positioned from Amman to Beirut the previous evening as the JAV7575, departing Amman at 14:58 and arriving Beirut 15:57.

A happy reunion as the 47th Infantry Group returned to Dublin

A happy reunion as the 47th Infantry Group returned to Dublin

A smooth military operation ensured that the aircraft was promptly unloaded and the replacement unit, the 49th Infantry Group, was embarked and the aircraft departed Dublin as the JAV7578, at 14:11, arriving Beirut at 20:56.

Meanwhile, the 175 members of the 47th Infantry Group, looking tanned and refreshed, entered Terminal 1’s arrival area, to be greeted by scenes that were a mixture of raw of emotion, with smiles, cheers and in some cases tears, as family and friends picked out their loved ones and greeted them enthusiastically. It was then time for home and some well deserved leave.

Ministerial Review of Lebanon Bound 49th Infantry Group

Lt Col Ian Byrne, OC the 49th Infantry Group

Lt Col Ian Byrne, OC the 49th Infantry Group

As with previous foreign deployments, the members of the 49th Infantry Group had earlier taken part in a ministerial review, by Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, at Sarsfield Barracks, Limerick on 5th May. The Minister was accompanied by the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Lieutenant General Conor O’Boyle, and he reviewed the 189 troops drawn primarily from Munster and Leinster, who had been in training for a number of weeks in preparation for the deployment. The 49th Infantry Group is commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ian Byrne. The ceremonial event consisted of a parade, the Ministerial Inspection and his address followed by a march past within the barracks. The parade was attended by the families of 49th Infantry Group personnel and invited guests.

Minister Coveney reviews the 49 Inf Gp

Minister Coveney reviews the 49 Inf Gp

Addressing the troops directly, Minister Coveney referred to the difficult situation in the Golan Heights and which he said “very clearly highlight the difficult environment in which our peacekeepers operate”. I want to assure you that every precaution is being taken to protect all Irish forces deployed overseas, including our troops in UNDOF”.

United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF)

UNDOF was established by UNSCR350 in 1974, following the agreed disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces on the Golan Heights, after the ending of the Yom Kippur War. Its role was to oversee an ‘area of separation’, which is 80km long and varying from 10km to 1km in width. Initially it consisted of 44 manned positions and 11 observation posts and a small number of observers. In September 2013, the Defence Forces were asked to participate and supply a larger force for the mission. Their role is primarily to act as the Force Mobile Reserve (FMR) and to undertake reinforcement, reaction, escort and other operations throughout UNDOF’s Area of Responsibility.

At the beginning of May there were a number of incidents in the Golan Heights as Inter-Anti Government Armed Elements clashed within the ‘area of separation’. The situation remained volatile over a number of days and the Irish FMR was tasked to secure and clear sites and to evacuate two injured UN observers (non-Irish), from a UN Post within the UNDOF Area of Responsibility. Currently the 48th Infantry Group, under the command of Lt. Col. Mark Prendergast are deployed there and they rotated with the 46th Infantry Group, on 7th of April. The aircraft used on that occasion was Airbus A320-232, SP-HAD of Small Planet Airlines (Poland) which operated the LLP8055/8055/8056/8053 which positioned from Oslo to operate Dublin-Tel Aviv-Dublin-Tel Aviv.

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About the Author

Jim has had a life-long interest in military matters and aviation. Initially, he fused both of these interests together with a passion for military aviation, initially as a photographer. He has travelled extensively over the years and has been the guest of many European air forces, plus the air forces of the United States, Russia and others throughout the world. His first introduction to journalism coincided with an interest in the civil aviation industry was when he initially wrote for and later edited, ‘Aviation Ireland’, the club magazine of the Aviation Society of Ireland. Jim was a contributor to Flying in Ireland since its inception over 10 years ago and is now a key contributor to this site. He has also contributed items for a number of other aviation magazines and has produced a number of detailed contributions to Government policy documents, most recently the Irish Government’s White Paper on Defence. He is also deeply involved in the local community and voluntary sector and has worked both in local government and central government.

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