On 15 March 2009, MINURCAT, the United Nation's-led mission in Chad and the Central African Republic, assumed operational control of the UN force of 2,085 personnel, including 1,877 troops re-hatted from eight EUFOR contributors. An Irish officer, Brigadier General Gerald Aherne, has been appointed deputy force commander in the mission.
In the eight short weeks or so since MINURCAT took over the force, the mission has faced a number of challenges — mainly force generation, a shortfall in helicopter assets and fuel shortages in Chad. In his report last month to the UN Security Council on the MINURCAT mission, the Secretary General indicated that the build-up of the force will be phased, with a period of consolidation prior to the beginning of the rainy season in June 2009. The force was expected to reach its full troop strength of 5,200 by the end of 2009 but this has been revised downwards to 4,700 by that date. As of 30 April 2009, the MINURCAT force strength was 2,400 troops and it is likely to reach 3,000 troops by 30 June 2009. The pace of troop generation has been attributed to the brief period allowed between the UN's authorisation of the military component of MINURCAT and the deployment of military personnel.
In addition, the UN has only received pledges for ten of the 18 military helicopters detailed in the force requirements. It has urged member states to meet the shortfalls in personnel and air assets, particularly night-capable military helicopters, to ensure that the mission can implement its mandate without constraint. With regard to helicopter support available to the Defence Forces contingent in Goz Beida, two UN helicopters are currently available to the Defence Forces serving with MINURCAT. In addition, they have retained the two contracted Mi-8T helicopters to support their operations in Chad. Four helicopters are based in Goz Beida.
The fuel problems being encountered by MINURCAT are common to the whole of Chad, as there is a country-wide fuel crisis. The UN is fully exercised on the issue and all possible sources of fuel for MINURCAT contingents are being investigated by the UN to meet the mission's current needs. This includes the airlifting of fuel from a neighbouring UN mission, which has been ongoing. The UN has indicated that once sufficient fuel stock has been rebuilt in Abeche, it should be prepared for future country-wide crises of this nature. Fuel conservation measures at Camp Ciara, where personnel from the Irish battalion are based, are being constantly reviewed. While there have been some limitations on operations conducted by the Irish battalion, the maintenance of essential "life support" systems in the Irish camp, that is, water, cooking, sanitation, air conditioning, etc., has continued to be prioritised by the Defence Forces. The battalion has retained the capability to react to emergency situations using both air and land assets. Fuel rationing is expected to continue until 1 June when a new UN contract is mobilised.
The situation continues to be monitored closely by the Defence Forces. I am satisfied that all necessary measures are being taken by the UN to address the various difficulties faced by the mission in its transition period.