Ireland supports the Bush/Blair “war on terror”


Well over half a million US troops have passed through Shannon on the way to and from Iraq and Afghanistan.  This aspect of Ireland’s support for the US war machine is well known.


Almost unknown is the fact that Ireland actually supplies troops to fight the Bush/Blair “war on terror” in Afghanistan, and it has been doing so since July 2002.  Not many, it’s true.  But Ireland is a contributor to ISAF, the NATO-led multi-national force there, which has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Afghans in recent months. 


This came as a shock to me when I discovered it recently on ISAF’s website [1], where Ireland is listed as one of the 37 contributing states.  And I suspect it would have come as a shock to the vast majority of people in Ireland, since the Government has kept very quiet about it, knowing full well that it is not the kind of “peacekeeping” mission that Ireland has traditionally engaged in.


Recently, Labour TD, Joe Costello, questioned the Minister of Defence, Willie O’Dea, about Ireland’s role in Afghanistan.  He asked:


“if Irish soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan; if so, when the mission began; the number of soldiers serving in Afghanistan; the role of the soldiers; the person under whom they serve; the length of time they will stay; the person who decided to send Irish soldiers to Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”


In a written reply, on 26 October 2006, O’Dea said:


On 20 December, 2001, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1386 authorising the establishment of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for six months to assist the Interim Afghanistan Authority in the maintenance of security in Kabul and the surrounding areas. The authorisation of ISAF has been extended by the UN Security Council since then. NATO assumed the lead in ISAF on 11 August, 2003. The current Commander of ISAF, which has a strength of approximately 8,000 personnel, is Lt. Gen David Richards (UK).


Ireland has participated in ISAF in Afghanistan since 5 July, 2002, following the Government Decision of 2 July, 2002 authorising the provision of seven members of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the force.


“Seven Irish personnel are currently serving with the force. Three personnel are serving as staff officers with the ISAF HQ in Kabul and four personnel are deployed in Liaison Teams in the Regional Command Capital (RC(C)) Kabul. The Liaison Teams specifically liaise between the RC(C) and the Afghan National Directorate of Security, Kabul Police and the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA). Irish personnel serving with ISAF are rotated on a four monthly basis.


“It is proposed that the Defence Forces will continue to serve with ISAF in the immediate future, subject to an ongoing review by my Department.” (Question 176)


This answer is incorrect in one respect in that, as of 5 October 2006, ISAF had approximately 31,000 (not 8,000) troops [2], the largest contributors being the US with 11,250 and the UK with 5,200.  The US has a further 8,000 troops in Afghanistan under its own separate command.


The answer is misleading because it gives the impression that Ireland is engaged in a “peacekeeping” mission in Kabul, and has nothing to do with the offensive military action in which ISAF is now engaged in southern Afghanistan.  To that end, it quotes from the Security Council resolution 1386 [3], which set up ISAF, initially for 6 months, when its role was indeed


“to assist the Afghan Interim Authority in the maintenance of security in Kabul and its surrounding areas, so that the Afghan Interim Authority as well as the personnel of the United Nations can operate in a secure environment”.


Initially, therefore, its role could possibly be described as “peacekeeping”, and its area of operation was limited to a small area around Kabul.  Bombing villages in southern Afghanistan was not part of its initial mission - that was then the business of the US forces under separate US command engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom.


O’Dea’s answer states that “the authorisation of ISAF has been extended by the UN Security Council”.  Extended in time, he seems to be saying.  It was: for a further 6 months in May 2002, and a year in November 2002.  But, in October 2003, as well as extending the time span of its mandate for a further year, resolution 1510 [4] also changed its role and area of operation and authorised it to operate


in areas of Afghanistan outside of Kabul and its environs, so that the Afghan Authorities as well as the personnel of the United Nations and other international civilian personnel engaged, in particular, in reconstruction and humanitarian efforts, can operate in a secure environment”


In addition, resolution 1510 required ISAF to “work in close consultation” with “the Operation Enduring Freedom Coalition”, which by no stretch of the imagination was engaged in “peacekeeping”.  None of this is mentioned in O’Dea’s answer.


Under this new mandate, ISAF set up bases first in northern Afghanistan (for instance, at Konduz and Mazar-e-Sharif) and later in the west (for instance, at Chaghcharan and Herat), ostensibly to provide security for Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).  These actions met with little resistance, since these areas are home to the groups that made up the Northern Alliance, which helped the US overthrow the Taliban regime in late 2001.  Also, as far as I can see, ISAF has made no attempt to interfere in the governance of these areas, which remain unaffected by the powerless regime in Kabul.  ISAF has certainly made no attempt to interfere in poppy growing.


In 2006, 10,000+ US troops were transferred to ISAF command and it extended its operations to the Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan, from which the Taliban regime arose.  By so doing, ISAF essentially joined in the still ongoing US Operation Enduring Freedom and it understandably met with fierce resistance.  This seems to have taken the troop supplying states by surprise.  States like Canada and The Netherlands that sent troops to Afghanistan on a “peacekeeping” mission have had dozens of them come home in body bags.


Currently, Bush and Blair are trying desperately, but without much success, to bludgeon NATO states into sending more troops to kill and be killed in southern Afghanistan and into lifting the “caveats” they apply to troops already operating in Afghanistan but not in the south.  Germany, for instance, which has 2750 troops serving in the north, restricts them to firing in self-defence, which is appropriate to a “peacekeeping” role, but not to ISAF’s offensive operations in the south.  (It would be interesting to know what “caveats”, if any, Ireland lays down for the operations of its troops).


The small Irish contingent may reside in the safety of Kabul, at a distance from ISAF’s offensive operations in the south, but, as a state contributing to ISAF, Ireland is as responsible for Afghan deaths as the US and the UK, whose ground troops and aircrew are doing most of the killing.



David Morrison

1 December 2006

Irish Political Review