I propose to take Questions Nos. 35, 36, 43, 49, 51, 52, 56, 57, 62, 69 and 70 together.
The EUFOR Tchad/RCA Mission is progressing most satisfactorily. The 97th Infantry Battalion has just completed its four month tour of duty and has been replaced by the 98th Infantry Battalion drawn from the 1st Southern Brigade. The operational situation since July has been relatively quiet due mainly to the rainy season which seriously restricts vehicular movement in the Area of Operations. The Irish deployment in Chad continues to provide for a safe and secure environment for the local population and protection for NGOs working in the area.
The Chadian Armed Opposition Groups remain a viable military threat to the Government of Chad. Traditionally the rainy season has been used as a time for the re-organisation, re-armament and consolidation of rebel forces; this has then been followed by a resumption of hostilities against the Government of Chad. There are no indications that this year will prove any different. Notwithstanding this, the current threat to Irish forces as a direct result of rebel activity is assessed as LOW, and MEDIUM as a result of possible indirect involvement in clashes between the Chadian Armed forces and the Chadian Armed Opposition Groups.
It should be noted that the Defence Forces, as is routine for operational deployment both at home and overseas, carries out ongoing risk assessment. These assessments have been carried out for EUFOR Chad. They are initiated in the planning stages of such missions and are constantly reviewed and regularly updated.
All costs associated with deployment of personnel and equipment to the EUFOR Tchad-CAR mission are borne by the troop contributing countries. All EU Member States, irrespective of participation, are contributing to the common costs of the operation. The estimated cost to the Defence Vote arising from the Defence Forces participation in this mission will amount to approximately €57m.
Because of the nature of the operation and the mission area and environment, force protection is a key consideration. The Defence Forces have deployed a full range of Force Protection assets including Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs). In addition, the Defence Forces have deployed a suite of secure, robust, state-of-the art tactical communications systems to the EUFOR mission. These systems have been deployed in appropriate quantities to support the effective conduct of operations. The Defence Forces is fully satisfied with the respective procedures it has established for overseas deployment and sustainment via commercial arrangements. These arrangements have been tested and proven through significant past experience in this area.
The baggage weight allowance for Defence Forces personnel travelling by air to overseas missions reflects best international practise for same (i.e. an allocation of 45kgs/man). Due to the arduous nature of the EUFOR Tchad-CAR operation, the Defence Forces increased this allocation to a total of 65kgs/man, with the balance of excess allocated weight being airlifted to theatre via pre-arranged commercial cargo means.
The actual baggage payload for Defence Forces personnel travelling via charter air during deployment or rotation into overseas mission areas is determined under international regulation by the Captain in command of the transporting aircraft. In the context of the projection by air of Defence Forces personnel from Dublin to arrive in N'djamena on 22 September 2008, the Captain of the charter aircraft concerned made a decision, based on weather conditions and how this may have impacted on fuel weight necessary for flight, to restrict the maximum baggage allowance at Dublin Airport. This resulted in some 300kgs of luggage — consisting of light Patrol Packs — being left in Dublin for consignment to theatre by pre-arranged alternate means. No important equipment was left behind which would have hampered personnel in the execution of their duties. All personnel travelled with their Cabin Sack, heavy Main Pack and key items of Personal Protective Equipment (e.g. Helmets and Fragmentation Jackets). All excess baggage allocation not conveyed on the flight that arrived in theatre on 22 September was airlifted from Dublin by commercial cargo means on the 25 September, and arrived into N'djamena on 30 September 2008.
Subject to the provision of a re-supply flight for the sustainment of Defence Forces elements and the 98 Infantry Battalion, the Defence Forces will facilitate the carriage of Christmas gifts to personnel serving in Chad in 2008. Normal postal arrangements in relation to letters have been arranged by the Defence Forces and are continuing with An Post.
In relation to the deployment of Defence Forces personnel to provide a guard at the Force Headquarters in Abeche, the 98th Infantry Battalion, was requested by the Force Commander to provide personnel for Force protection duties. The background to the request was the withdrawal of the Swedish contribution to EUFOR Tchad/RCA at the end of their tour of duty; the Swedish element had provided force protection until their departure; no other country came forward to replace them. Thus the Force HQ had to seek assistance from the units serving in the field, the Irish, French and Polish Battalions.
Following appropriate consideration by the Irish military authorities, it was agreed that the Defence Forces would provide a platoon level commitment on a rotational basis for security at the Force Headquarters. The platoon, comprising approximately 30 personnel, took up duty in Abéché for the period from 7 October until 26 October 2008.
The incidence of health problems among Irish Personnel serving in Chad has not been significantly greater than in other overseas missions. It must be understood that the medical standards applied to the selection of personnel for this mission have taken into account the particular rigours of the mission. Therefore, in general terms, those serving in Chad can be expected to be in the best possible state of health to withstand any health risks they might be exposed to in theatre. Our experience in Chad and previously in Liberia has been that our personnel closely follow all advice issued to them in regard to preventive medical procedures and hygiene. Adherence to such advice is a cornerstone of disease prevention. In cases where personnel have become ill, the medical support in place has proved fully capable of meeting the challenge, thereby avoiding minor illnesses becoming exacerbated.
Ireland has received a request from the United Nations to consider putting the Irish troops, currently deployed in CHAD with EUFOR, under the command of the United Nations after 15 March 2009, when EUFOR mandate expires.
I would be positively disposed to continuing our participation in the follow-on mission with the same type of contingent as is currently deployed in Chad. However, this would be subject to Government and Parliamentary approval. In arriving at a positive decision we would have to factor in the extent to which other current EU contributors also remained on board. The level of logistics support, currently available to EUFOR, would also be a vital consideration for our participation in follow-on operation.