Defense forces concerned about withdrawal from Syrian peacekeeping mission – The Irish Times

Some senior Defense Forces officers are concerned that the withdrawal of Irish troops from the UN peacekeeping mission in Syria will further hamper recruitment and retention.

Currently, 130 Defense Forces peacekeepers are serving in southwestern Syria with the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which has been responsible for maintaining a ceasefire between Israel and Syria since 1973.

Last week the government informed the United Nations that these troops would be withdrawn. The move is intended to free resources to recognize the Defense Forces’ commitment to the EU battlegroup system and comes amid chronic staffing shortages in the Army, Naval Service and Air Force Corps.

The Defense Forces are expected to contribute over 170 soldiers to the 2,000-strong German-led Battlegroup, which will begin training next year and remain on standby through 2025 for deployment in humanitarian, peacekeeping and conflict stabilization missions outside the EU.

“Undof offered guys a way to make money, gain experience and challenge themselves. When that is completed it will make a military career much less attractive,” a senior officer told the Irish Times.

“Guys would rely on an overseas posting to save some money for one [house] Deposit or if they would have a child. Now is the only real opportunity for that,” said another officer, referring to the deployment of the defense forces at Unifil in southern Lebanon.

There is also a concern that the Battlegroup assignments do not offer the same opportunity to earn expatriate bonuses. While troops train and receive per diems in Germany, they are unlikely to receive the peacekeeping allowances paid to personnel in Syria or Lebanon.

Undof offered guys a way to make money, gain experience and challenge themselves

“There’s a saying in there [the Defence Forces] about Battlegroups: ‘No mission, no money, no medal’,” another military source said.

They likened the decision to the withdrawal of naval service ships from rescue missions in the Mediterranean, which they say had a disastrous impact on crew retention.

However, dismay at Undof’s withdrawal is not universal. Some enlisted personnel, including NCOs, said enthusiasm for foreign service had waned in recent years due to staff workloads caused by the staffing crisis.

“People are burned out,” said one. This is reflected in the increasing reliance of military authorities on compulsory selection when manning foreign operations.

Compulsory selection directs soldiers to go abroad if there are not enough volunteers. Last month, at least five soldiers deployed abroad appealed their mandatory selection for the mission.

The Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco) said the withdrawal was a political decision guided by military advice.

“However, this withdrawal is an inevitable consequence of the inability to retain appropriately qualified and experienced personnel due to a lack of proper retention policies,” said Secretary General Lt. Gen. Conor King.

He said the defense forces would “continue to bleed people” unless the EU Working Time Directive is introduced and service conditions improved.

The decision to retire from Undof also drew criticism from outside the military.

Roger Cole of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance said the decision to reallocate resources to the battlegroups represented support for “EU militarization with its ever-growing arms industry and increasing warmongering.” Defense forces concerned about withdrawal from Syrian peacekeeping mission – The Irish Times

Dais Johnston

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