UN Seeks Mostly Western Troops for Lebanon Force

UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations is on a global hunt for troops, military equipment, and logistical support to revamp its existing peacekeeping force in Lebanon, which has been mandated to monitor last week’s cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.

"We have no formal offers yet," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Tuesday. "We would like to have firm commitments of troops as soon as possible."

Asked if Secretary-General Kofi Annan was concerned that no country has so far offered troops following the UN’s cease-fire resolution last Friday, Dujarric said: "We do expect a more formal meeting [of troop-contributing nations] on Thursday at which point, hopefully, we will get those offers [of troops]."

The cease-fire resolution, which was adopted unanimously by the 15-member Security Council last week, called for an increase in the force strength of the existing UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) from its current 1,990 troops to a proposed 15,000.

As there are UNIFIL troops already on the ground, Dujarric said, the United Nations is not operating "in a vacuum." "We have UNIFIL," he added.

Since the adoption of the resolution, the United Nations has hosted two meetings of troop-contributing countries. The first was attended by some 28 countries and the second by 17 countries.

The United States, which co-sponsored the resolution with France, has declared it will not provide any troops. But it has indicated a willingness to provide logistical support, including transport aircraft to ferry troops into Lebanon.

The bulk of the troops is expected to come from Western nations, with little or none from neighboring Arab countries. The United Nations believes that the only "robust" force – well-trained and well-equipped soldiers – can come mostly from Western states.

France is expected to provide about 5,000 troops, the largest single contingent, followed perhaps by Italy, with about 2,000 to 3,000 troops.

Other potential troop contributors include Spain and Australia. At least three Muslim countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, and Turkey – are also expected to contribute troops.

UNIFIL, which was created in March 1958, costs about $100 million annually. If the revamped UNIFIL gets off the ground, it will be the second-largest UN peacekeeping force.

Currently, the largest force is the 15,600-strong UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), created in November 1999 and costing over $1.1 billion annually.

Dujarric told reporters that the UNIFIL Force Commander, Gen. Alain Pellegrini of France, met with senior officers of the Lebanese and Israeli armies "to discuss the implementation of and compliance with the agreement."

He said they also discussed the withdrawal of the Israeli army and the deployment of the Lebanese armed forces in south Lebanon.

Dujarric said that both Annan and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations "are working to drum up troops for this force."

"We’ll need to have a highly capable force, which will be able to carry out the mandate given to it by the Security Council. But, I think, as opposed to past situations, we do have one leg up here, as there already is a UN force in south Lebanon [UNIFIL]."

So obviously, he said, it will be a challenge to get these troops, but, "We don’t face the situation that we faced in some other countries where we go in and there is no UN infrastructure on the ground."

Meanwhile, the Security Council has also welcomed a decision by the Lebanese government to deploy 15,000 of its troops to south Lebanon. This will be in addition to the UN force of 15,000, bringing the total to 30,000 troops.

According to the resolution that was adopted last week, the UN force will coordinate its activities with the governments of both Lebanon and Israel. The UN force will also accompany and support the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy throughout the south.

Additionally, the UN force will provide assistance to ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons.

Dujarric also said that the disarming of militias, including Hezbollah, will not be the responsibility of the UN force. But the United Nations "will assist the government of Lebanon in asserting its authority over all of southern Lebanon."

Besides troops, the United Nations is also in need of fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, armored personnel carriers, and trucks. As a general rule, troops from most Western nations arrive with their own equipment.

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Author: Thalif Deen

Thalif Deen writes for Inter Press Service.