Delayed troops finally make it home from Chad

THE first batch of Irish troops finally arrived back on home soil from Chad yesterday after being delayed by the ash cloud.

Airspace restrictions in Portugal had held up the return of the troops but all 212 members of the first chalk of troops landed safely in Dublin Airport early on Monday morning. The second group of Irish troops, consisting of 186 personnel, is expected to return on May 20, with equipment following at the end of July.

Minister for Defence Tony Killeen praised the Irish contingent for the work they had done in keeping peace in the region.

“I would like to thank all members of the Defence Forces who have served in Chad for their dedication, professionalism and hard work in contributing to a safe and secure environment for refugees and displaced persons. They follow a long and honourable tradition of commitment to international peacekeeping,” he said.

Amnesty International Ireland chief executive Colm O’Gorman also paid tribute to Irish involvement in Chad but warned that a total UN withdrawal could put at risk the achievements of Irish troops over the past three years.

“We can all be immensely proud of the contribution made by the Irish Defence Forces in Chad. But those successes have been put at risk by the failure of the United Nations to ensure that the peacekeeping mission stays and that they have the numbers, resources and authority to protect the camps,” he said.

The Defence Forces have been involved in Chad since February 2008. The initial phase of the mission to Chad was conducted under the auspices of the European Union (EUFOR). This was then succeeded by a UN military component MINURCAT in March of last year.

The mission to Chad represented one of the most challenging logistical operations ever undertaken by the Irish Defence Forces. Chad is approximately twice the size of France, with little or no infrastructure.

The Irish area of operations (sector south) is about the size of Munster and is located in one of the most remote parts of the country.

Over the course of the deployment phase, 139 vehicles and wheeled units and 269 containers were moved to the Irish camp in Goz Beida.

Cargo was moved 9,000km by sea from Dublin to Douala in Cameroon. The operation also required 21 cargo flights, 14 road convoys and eight rail convoys.

The task was made more difficult by the fact that there are only 380km of hard-surfaced roads in the country.

A similar process is now under way for the withdrawal operation.

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