The Irish-led EU peacekeeping mission to Chad is under discussion in Brussels, with a review of the first few months of the operation, including last month’s attack on troops and aid workers.
Lt Gen Pat Nash, the operations commander of the EU’s largest such undertaking to date, has been giving his report on the mission, which is a bridging operation until the UN can take over in March next year.
Officials heard details of armed troops firing at the Irish soldiers near their camp at Goz Beida in the west of the country.
It is not clear whether the shots were fired by rebels, thought to have crossed the border from Sudan, or by Chad government troops trying to draw the Irish into the battle. They also heard of the attempted raid on UN offices in the town of Goz Beida, when rebels tried to make off with vehicles and computers from the compound, but were prevented by the action of Irish and Dutch troops.
Camp Ciara had been alerted before 5am on June 19 that rebel soldiers were heading towards the area. Initially it was thought they were on their way to the capital, D’Njamena, for a repeat of the February attack on the government.
But military intelligence believes it was designed to attract maximum publicity and possibly fan hostilities between Chad and Sudan.
The rebels broke up into a number of groups, with some heading towards the displaced people camps and the UN refugee camp close to the town.
The Irish troops took up positions between the rebels and the camps and stood them off. During one of these incidents, shots were fired at the Irish soldiers who responded by firing into the air.
There were continuing battles throughout Goz Beida and a number of aid groups contacted Camp Ciara asking to be evacuated. “Within a short time all were responded to,” said EU operations command spokesman Comdt Dan Harvey.
A call came from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees compound and a group of 35 Dutch soldiers from Camp Ciara responded.
“They were there within fifteen minutes of getting the call. When they arrived they found rebels commandeering vehicles and they asked the Dutch soldiers to leave. They refused and there was a stand-off for about an hour. Eventually the rebels backed down. The Irish had reinforced the area and two of the three vehicles the rebels took were recovered,” he said.
More than 240 NGO workers were taken to Camp Ciara for safety at their request and remained there until the situation was calm a day or two later.
The UN apologised for remarks made by one of its employees, who was not in the region at the time, who said the Irish had failed to respond to calls for help.
Comdt Harvey said: “This incident was a microcosm of what the force was sent to do and a very good case study we believe of what EUFOR’s role is.”
“It has been an unprecedented success, in that it has created a significant deterrent to the major rebel groups, including the Janjaweed, since the first patrol on 18 February,” he said.
There have been 211 encounters with armed bandits logged and most of the bandits are believed to have moved away from the area.
The UN may not be in a position to take over the mission in March and if so they will ask the EU to remain. It will then be up to national governments to decide if they wish to keep their troops there in what is a costly exercise as each country pays its own costs.
Defence Minister Willie O’Dea said he would look favourably on keeping the 460 Irish troops there in the camp built by the Irish.
Committees representing EU governments in Brussels will consider the mission after hearing evidence from a number of sources, including Lt Gen Nash and make their report in September/ October.