A LIMERICK man will deploy to the Syrian-Israeli border as second-in-command (2iC), as part of a UN peacekeeping mission later this month.
Captain Liam Halpin, 29, from Caherdavin, will join the 50th infantry group on an observation mission in the Golan Heights, as part of the United Nations Disengagement Observation Force (UNDOF), where he will “observe the area of separation between the Israeli and Syrian government”.
According to Capt Halpin, of Woodview Park, the aim of the mission is to ensure that both nations are complying with the original 1974 ceasefire agreement within the zone in which they are deployed.
“Within that area, there are no weapons allowed in that area. Outside of those zones, there is an area of limitation, that goes out to 10 to 20 kilometres, in which only a certain amount of military hardware [is allowed]. They can only have a certain amount of artillery pieces, certain amount of troops, a certain amount of tanks,” he explained.
Before replacing the current Irish contingent, the former Na Piarsaigh hurler will undergo two weeks of training in the Glen of Imaal, Wicklow.
According to a spokesperson for the Defence Forces, commanders and soldiers are put through a “demanding series of scenarios”, based on potential threats that “may be encountered in the volatile mission area.
“Troops will face simulated explosive strikes, be asked to secure, extract and evacuate personnel, as well as anti-ambush tactics and detailed operational planning.”
Capt Halpin said that it is important for the troops to have an understanding of both nations and their current situations.
“You would have to know what all the players are involved in, the areas of operations are. You would have to know what your rules of engagement are at all times, and the troops themselves would have to know everything about the mission area, what to expect from it, what the sort of operational tempo is, and what they can expect when they go out there,” he said.
Though ISIS [Islamic State] is “a concern and something to be aware of”, Capt Halpin said it should not have a direct bearing on the mission.
He said that the war in Syria has made the mission “more dynamic.
“While the civil war is ongoing within the country, the force isn’t actually there to fight against any armed anti-government forces,” he added.
The former Ard Scoil Rís student, who served in the Lebanon in 2013, said that his main responsibility at the moment was to ensure that every soldier is trained to the “highest standards” before flying to the Middle East.
He added that the training will ensure that the troops can make the correct and right decisions, in the “unlikely” event of them coming into contact with conflict.
“It is a peacekeeping mission and you are trying to keep the peace, rather than antagonizing anyone or anything like that. Our main objective is to observe and report.
“We will make sure that we are as well-prepared as we can possibly be before we go,” he told the Limerick Leader before departing to the training camp in Wicklow last week.
The Limerickman said that his only dealings with Syria before this mission was delivering a convoy of vehicles and cars that are being used by the Irish contingent at the moment. However, he added that he was only in the zone for a few hours before returning to his service in the Lebanon.
He first joined the Defence Forces 11 years ago, one day after he turned 19.
“It was always something that I wanted to do ever since I was young. I had no relatives in army, my father was a prison officer and my mother worked for the HSE, and it was something that I always wanted to do. It was always something seemed clear to me. The army, it’s a robust job, it’s very tough, but it’s a very rewarding career,” he explained.
Capt Halpin is a graduate of business and human resources at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, and played hurling with Na Piarsaigh until he was 25 years old. He has also played with the GMIT Fitzgibbon Cup team.