Irish soldiers prepare for mission to Syria

Irish defense forces prepare for deployment in Syria

In the Wicklow mountains, Irish soldiers are preparing for their United Nations mission to the Golan Heights, a small mountainous area in southwestern Syria currently occupied by Israel and near Damascus.

"We are the first reserve company for the mission. So, if a situation arises, such as the reinforcement of a position or the evacuation of personnel, that will be our primary task," the leader of the mission, Lieutenant-Colonel Brendan Delaney, told the BBC.

Second-in-command, Comdt Tim O'Brien, believes the soldiers to be fully prepared.

"I'm confident that our soldiers are well-equipped, well-trained and well-prepared for any eventuality, including chemical weapons," he said.

The Irish UN contingent were due to arrive in two stages, but the UN delayed the departure of the first 115, who were supposed to leave this week. Now, the 115 plus another 90 will be deployed to the Middle East later this month.

"I'm looking forward to it. It's my first trip as it is for a lot of the lads," Pte Keith Callaghan said.

"I'm feeling very confident because of all the training we've done so far."

Cpl Claire Powell said it was "always a privilege to serve under the tricolour."

"And under the United Nations as well. It's one of the best elements in the job and gives you great pride in the country," she said.

Last week, Irish Defence minister Alan Shatter inspected the soldiers, who were approved for deployment as UN monitors by the Irish government in July.

"I've every confidence in the training that they've had and in the very important role that they can play to ensure that the dreadful difficulties in that region don't further spill over into some conflict between Israel and Syria", said the minister.

The soldiers' tour of duty is set to last six months.

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