UNIFIL Peacekeeping in Southern Lebanon

by Christina Greene [ United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre ]

Since 1978, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon has been working to help bring peace and security to the region. UNIFIL began humanitarian mine-action activities and cluster-munitions clearance in Lebanon in 2006. It also began to demine parts of the Blue Line, which is the demarcation line between Israel and Lebanon. This overview discusses a few UNIFIL projects.

Mine-action operations by countries contributing troops to U.N. peacekeeping in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon fall between the traditionally defined humanitarian-demining operations and military demining, which involves breaching to allow for the advance and retreat of soldiers at war. UNIFIL demining operations have changed and evolved over the years and reflect many of the challenges and successes of mine action within the context of peacekeeping operations.

A U.N. worker applies the finishing touches to a blue-marker barrel. All photos courtesy of UNMACC-SL.
A U.N. worker applies the finishing touches to a blue-marker barrel.
All photos courtesy of UMACC-SL.

UNIFIL was established in 1978 with the mandate to “restore international peace and security.”1 Following the 2006 conflict between Israel and Lebanon, UNIFIL’s mission expanded “to ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons.”2 Within the context of this mandate, UNIFIL contingents initially deployed with demining and explosive-ordnance-disposal capabilities; however, the scope of demining activities was limited to emergency action and clearance of land for UNIFIL positions. In response to the 2006 humanitarian crisis created by severe cluster-bomb contamination, UNIFIL troop-contributing countries deployed battle-area clearance teams and focused on humanitarian mine-action tasks until early 2010.

Since 2007, UNIFIL also has engaged in a new project, demining access corridors for marking the Blue Line,3 and from early 2010, UNIFIL troop-contributing countries phased out BAC tasks and focused exclusively on supporting UNIFIL’s goal to physically mark the Blue Line. Working in conjunction with the UNIFIL troop-contributing countries through J3 Combat Engineer Section, the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre has similarly undergone a change in role and focus. In 2009 the responsibility for coordination of humanitarian demining in Lebanon transitioned from the UNMACC to the Lebanon Mine Action Centre. The UNMACC now coordinates between UNIFIL and LMAC, as well as supporting UNIFIL troop-contributing countries in complying with International Mine Action Standards.

Given the security context in Southern Lebanon, the UNIFIL peacekeepers conducting mine action in Southern Lebanon are fulfilling a unique role. More than 1,000 marked minefields run alongside the Blue Line. While the clearance of these minefields is not yet politically feasible, the need to physically mark the Blue Line requires the clearance of access lanes for the construction of blue-marker barrels.4 As there is a high level of distrust between the Lebanese and Israeli militaries along the Blue Line, UNIFIL peacekeepers provide a neutral force that is able to operate there. The security sensitivity of this area was highlighted in August 2010 when the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Defense Force clashed after the IDF attempted to cut down a tree next to the Blue Line near the village of El Aadeisse and Kafer Kela. The LAF perceived this to be a transgression of the Blue Line and IDF and LAF exchanged fire across the border. One IDF soldier and two LAF soldiers were killed.

The joint demining operations between UNIFIL and international nongovernmental organizations also included clearance tasks for the Blue Line barrel-marking project in 2007 and joint tasks with the Swedish Rescue Services Agency and Chinese peacekeepers in 2009, as well as clearance of the LAF patrol road north of the Blue Line. The clearance and reconstruction of the LAF road was conducted by SRSA and UNIFIL in 2009. In 2010, UNIFIL and MAG (Mines Advisory Group) conducted joint operations on the LAF road north of the Blue Line. MAG provided mechanical and manual clearance and UNIFIL construction units (Italian and Portuguese) conducted road construction.

A blue line barrell is measured and completed.
A blue line barrel is measured and completed.

Criticisms

The role of visiting military forces in mine action has been greatly debated. The 2003 Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining report on “The Role of the Military in Mine Action”5 analyzed many of the strengths and weaknesses of military actors performing mine action and specifically pointed out shortcomings of UNIFIL’s demining operations in conducting critical coordination and complying with IMAS. Thanks to the coordination role played by UNMACC and the dialogue within UNIFIL, many aspects of UNIFIL troop-contributing countries’ demining operations have been improved and problems have been resolved by encouraging the use of one standard for all troop-contributing countries and through assistance and monitoring of training and accreditation with the Lebanon Mine Action Center. Greater coordination between UNIFIL, LMAC and other mine-action actors in Southern Lebanon has increased the efficiency and safety of operations on many occasions in 2007, 2009 and 2010 on the Blue Line and for the Lebanese Armed Forces patrol road north of the Blue Line.

One of the main criticisms levied against operations by visiting militaries has been the militaries’ adherence to their own operational guidelines instead of complying with International Mine Action Standards. Troop-contributing countries have sometimes perceived a distinction between humanitarian demining and operational demining in support of peacekeeping operations and have argued that peacekeeping operations are not humanitarian activities and therefore not subject to IMAS. The United Nations has made a firm point that demining operations are to be in accordance with IMAS. Coordination, training and support provided by UNMACC have now ensured that all troop-contributing countries in Lebanon are accredited to IMAS and to the Lebanese Mine Action Standards. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations is currently in negotiations to ensure that all troop-contributing countries are contractually mandated to receive IMAS accreditation and provide IMAS-approved equipment. It is worth noting that the troop-contributing countries are conducting operational tasks but are using humanitarian standards of operations.

Challenges and Suggested Solutions

While peacekeeping demining operations have achieved great strides in improving performance on the ground as well as increasing coordination with national authorities, there are still challenges faced by UNIFIL demining operations. As of October 2010, teams from Belgium, China, France, Italy and Spain were deployed. The troop-contributing countries’ teams within UNIFIL are on an operational rotation between four and 10 months. This means that, as often as every four months, team members are replaced and the team is required to undergo training and accreditation. As a result, there has been a lack of institutional knowledge retained within the teams. It has been suggested that a training team remain behind for the incumbent team and the command structure for the incumbent team arrive prior to the mission to maintain institutional knowledge between current and incumbent team(s). Some troop-contributing countries have already started adopting such measures.

An accredited Spanish mine-clearance team in 2010.
An accredited Spanish mine-clearance team in 2010.

The UNMACC does provide a center of institutional knowledge within UNIFIL; however, a longer rotation by peacekeeping teams would increase their efficiency and familiarity with the mine and explosive-remnants-of-war situation in Southern Lebanon.

UNMACC has provided a much needed support role for the troop-contributing countries’ demining teams in coordination with the UNIFIL Combat Engineering Section; however, disagreements arise between the civilian UNMACC and the military staff from UNIFIL whenever UNIFIL perceives infringement upon their own military chain of command. Coordination of the demining peacekeepers troop-contributing countries requires sensitivity to the fact that militaries operate to a strict chain of command and are not as flexible as other mine-action organizations. On the other hand, UNIFIL must also be open to receiving instruction and support from coordinating bodies such as UNMACC and LMAC that have a wealth of expertise and experience to offer for such operations. UNIFIL’s mine-action operations have demonstrated that demining troop-contributing countries are able to provide a significant and unique role within peacekeeping operations and within mine action. While many of their tasks are not necessarily humanitarian in nature, they contribute to stabilization of insecure regions. To ensure the successful implementation of troop-contributing countries’ demining operations, the existence of a coordinating body such as UNMACC is critical to ensure coordination with national authorities and adherence to IMAS/LMAS, as well as the continuation of institutional knowledge for operations, quality assurance, training and accreditation. J

Biography

Christina GreeneChristina Greene has worked in mine action for seven years, holding positions in Washington D.C., Sudan and most recently in Lebanon as the Programme Officer with the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre. Greene holds a Master of Arts in international affairs from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

 


Christina Greene
E-mail: cy_greene(at)hotmail.com

Endnotes

  1. “Resolution 425: Israel Lebanon.” The United Nations Security Council. 19 March 1978. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/368/70/IMG/NR036870.pdf?OpenElement. Accessed 1 December 2010.
  2. “Resolution 1701: The Situation in the Middle East.” The United Nations Security Council, 11 August 2006. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/465/03/PDF/N0646503.pdf?OpenElement. Accessed 15 November 2010.
  3. This refers to a demarcation line (not technically a border) between Israel and Lebanon set up by the United Nations in 2000 as a way to determine whether Israel had fully withdrawn from Lebanon.
  4. Blue-marker barrels are large painted oil barrels perched on top of a solid concrete base to physically mark the Blue Line border. For more information, see: “De-mining Volatile Israeli-Lebanese Frontier.” BBC News. 10 September 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11250434. Accessed 1 December 2010.
  5. “The Role of the Military in Mine Action.” Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining. http://www.gichd.org/publications/year/the-role-of-military-in-mine-action. Accessed 15 November 2010.