A former senior Irish Army officer has claimed two serving colleagues “have been completely abandoned” after the Department of Defence was unable to say what progress it's making in trying to airlift them out of an increasingly volatile Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Other nations have removed their troops from the Goma area where the two Irish officers are serving, because locals are blaming UN soldiers for the spread of Covid-19. In addition, fighting has broken out between DRC government forces and insurgents. This has led to a refugee crisis and an estimated 200,000 have fled their homes as a result.
Nearly a week ago. the Department said it was considering chartering a jet to bring the male Lieutenant Colonel and female Captain back home.
The Irish Examiner asked what progress had been made on chartering a plane, if diplomatic clearances had been obtained to get the two home and if an approximate date for their extraction from the DRC was available. The Department of Defence declined to answer any of the questions.
In the meantime, it's understood they are among only a handful of UN personnel left in Goma, as the British, Canadians and Swedes have now withdrawn all their mission forces from that area. They are also living in a flat, not in the local UN compound, which leaves them even more vulnerable.
Security sources have said they're increasingly concerned about the welfare of the two Irish officers. One's tour of duty was due to finish on March 30 and the other April 14.
The Air Corps had previously offered to fly the government jet to get them out.
However, the Department of Defence claimed that wasn't practical as its fuel range meant it would involve landing in seven different airports and overnighting at least twice.
Dr Cathal Berry TD, a former second-in-charge of the elite Army Ranger Wing (ARW), said Ireland was too reliant on other countries to react on its behalf in similar situations.
He pointed out that the Spanish and Germans had helped get Irish troops out of Mali in the past.
Dr Berry said four years ago the government sold off its Gulfstream jet “for a pittance” and as a result the country doesn't have a jet capable of quickly extracting its soldiers or citizens from volatile areas like the DRC.
“There are weapons and ammunition there (with the officers). You can't take them back on a civilian (chartered) flight. There's a reason why every other European nation has military air transport. In our case it's like a farmer not having a tractor,” Dr Berry said.