United Nations Military in Liberia

November 2003 - 31 May 2007 

Civil war in the West African country of Liberia from 1989 to 1997 claimed the lives of almost 150,000 people, mainly civilians, and led to a complete breakdown of law and order in the country. It also threatened to destabilise neighbouring countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire.  Despite efforts by the UN and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to broker a peace agreement in the country outbreaks of fighting continued sporadically.  Following elections in 1997 Charles Taylor of the National Patriotic Party (NPP) was elected president. However, continued human rights abuses, the exclusion and harassment of political opponents, the failure to reform the security services, and ongoing differences between opposing groups contributed to a resumption of conflict in the country. 

The main threat to Taylor’s government came from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) based in the north-western Lofa region.

A major offensive by LURD forces began in 2001 and in 2002 a state of emergency was declared as LURD fighters advanced to within 50km of the capital, Monrovia. By early 2003 LURD had broken through to the coast and were within 20km of Monrovia. At the same time the Movement for Democracy and Elections in Liberia (MODEL) launched an offensive in the south of the country.  By July 2003 LURD had captured two of Monrovia’s three ports and MODEL had captured the remaining port.  In August, in response to the impending humanitarian crisis in Liberia the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1497, authorising the intervention of a multinational peacekeeping force from ECOWAS, pending the establishment of a UN stabilisation force.  The intervention force, called ECOMIL, deployed into Liberia and on August 27th a comprehensive peace agreement was signed in Accra, Ghana, by all parties to the Liberian conflict.

The following month UNSCR 1509 was passed establishing UNMIL with a mandate to support the implementation of the ceasefire agreement and the peace process; to protect UN staff; to support humanitarian activities; and to assist in national security reforms, including the formation of a restructured military.  On October 1st UNMIL took over peacekeeping duties, incorporating 3,500 ECOMIL troops into the new force..  Irish involvement with the 15,000-strong mission commenced in November 2003. In addition to 90 Inf Bn, consisting of a Logs/Admin Company, APC Company, and Support Company, members of the Army Ranger Wing also deployed to the mission area. The ARW was designated the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) and came under the direct command of the Force Commander UNMIL. The function of the SOTG was to provide the Force Commander with capabilities for special reconnaissance, human intelligence, liaison, and hostage rescue or extraction.

Much of the ARW’s mission with the SOTG was carried out through long-range patrols, many in excess of nine days’ duration, in the more remote areas of Liberia that were either outside UNMIL control or where there were reports of activity by former combatants.  SOTG operations included insertions by land, sea and air, the latter being made by Ukrainian Mi26s, capable of transporting the unit’s specially adapted reconnaissance vehicles.

Although providing humanitarian assistance was not a direct tasking for the SOTG it became a regular feature mainly in the form of medical assistance to the local population by the unit’s MO and patrol medics.

Among many similar operations carried out during their deployment the ARW personnel received a high degree of media attention for their freeing of 37 civilians who were being held by armed elements in a 20ft container in Yekepa. This particular operation led to the arrest of 10 of the armed elements.  Meanwhile the 450-strong 90 Inf Bn, mainly drawn from 4 W Bde, took on the task of providing UNMIL’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF). At the heart of the QRF is the APC Coy, equipped with 22 Mowags. These are supported by the Logs/Admin Coy (comprising transport, CIS, Logs/Admin, and Medical platoons, MP and Ordnance sections, and a National Support Element) and Support Coy (comprising an Engineer platoon, an 81mm Mortar platoon, and a Cavalry troop, equipped with AML 20s and AML 90s).

The HQ of the Irish contingent was established in the grounds of an abandoned hotel 10km north of Monrovia and was named Camp Clara.

Shortly after the QRF was established it was augmented by a 230-strong Swedish mechanised company, equipped with CV90 infantry combat vehicles, BV309 AFVs, and Patria APCs.  The Irish/Swedish QRF provides the main mobility and firepower resources for UNMIL. They are also the only European contingents operating on the ground with the 15,000-strong mission — Ukraine provides UNMIL’s air lift capability, operating mainly Mi8 helis as troop transporters and Mi24 heli-gunships for force protection, and personnel from several other European countries serve in UNMIL HQ in Star Building in Monrovia.  The QRF’s mission mainly consists of long-range ‘recce in force’ patrols and providing rapid reaction to any emergency that may arise in any of UNMIL’s four military sectors.

The long-range patrols, usually of 3-day or 10-day duration, are generally of company size and are carried out both in vehicles and on foot. Patrolling covers the whole of the country but much of it takes place in Monrovia and along the borders with Sierra Leone and CÁ´te d’Ivoire. In remote areas patrols are often inserted by air and sometimes by sea.  In order to be able to carry out its rapid reaction task the QRF has a company on standby at all times and ready to go at 30 minutes notice.

When serious rioting erupted in Monrovia in November 2004 the QRF was deployed and played a significant role in quelling the violence.  In addition to their military tasks all of the Irish contingents serving with UNMIL have also become heavily involved in humanitarian and CIMIC (civil-military co-operation) projects. Through funding from the departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs and fund-raising efforts by personnel on the ground many projects have been undertaken. These include the construction of a major extension to a HIV/AIDS hospice in Monrovia run by the Sisters of Charity, and support for leprosy and polio centres and numerous schools.


Operation Details
Duration: November 2003 to 31 May 2007 
Operation type:    UN led Peacekeeping Operation (Troops) 
Commitment:  2745 cumulative missions

Visit the official website of UNMIL



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