Irish troops withdrew from a UN camp 25km inside Syria in August 2014 after they and fellow UN peacekeepers came under sustained attack from al-Qaeda-linked Islamic extremists, amid a war in the region which has seen multiple factions fighting each other, including Islamic State (IS).
However, the Irish contingent did not leave until they bravely fought their way through the insurgent lines and freed 81 Filipino soldiers who had been under siege for three days.
It has now been revealed that some of the troops, who have since withdrawn to the relative safety of the Golan Heights, may be sent back to Syria.
The Irish troops are now mainly concentrated at Camp Ziouani (known in military terms as the Alpha side), which is on the strategic uplands of the disputed Golan Heights, between Israel and Syria.
There are currently 130 Irish Defence Forces personnel serving at that camp and they were first deployed in September 2013 to monitor the peace between the Israeli and Syrian soldiers — the latter have been tied up fighting against factions opposed to the rule of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
While claim and counter-claim about his alleged chemical attacks on Syrian civilians continue to be argued between Russia and the western powers, the Defence Forces’ press office has revealed that Irish soldiers could move back deeper into Syria before the end of the year.
Some UN peacekeepers have managed to get back to Camp Faouar, 25km inside the Syrian border, and eight Irish Army personnel are already among them, including their force commander, Colonel Michael Dawson.
The Defence Forces Press Office (DFPO) said that since November 2016, the UN peacekeeping mission has commenced a “phased conditions-based approach of incremental return to its original headquarters in Camp Faouar” — a significantly more dangerous area than the Golan Heights.
The DFPO said the decision to move troops deeper inside the Syrian border is being “based on continuous risk-assessment of the prevalent security conditions in that area of operations”.
A spokesman said that troops from the Golan Heights were scheduled to return to Camp Faouar, but for operational reasons would not reveal the number who would be transferred to the base.
The spokesman said any movement of troops would be subject to the approval of minister of state for defence, Paul Keogh, and that “certain infrastructural and security conditions are met at Camp Faouar”.