Ireland Deploys to Congo 60 Years Ago Today
60 years ago today, Ireland deployed troops on its first battalion size United Nations deployment.
The Congo became independent from Belgium on 30 June 1960, in turn triggering a sequence of destabilising events. The Belgian commander, Lieutenant General Émile Janssens, refused to rapidly ‘Africanize’ the officers’ corps of the Force Publique (the army), resulting in disorder and mutinies. To protect Belgians remaining in the country, the Belgian government decided to intervene. Belgium also sent troops to support Moïse Tshombé the President of the mineral rich breakaway province of Katanga. South Kassi also seceded.
Amid continuing unrest and violence, the United Nations deployed peacekeepers to help the central government in Léopoldville under President Joseph Kasa-Vubu and Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Involvement by the Soviet Union split the Congolese government further worsened the situation.
UN peacekeepers deployed under UN Security Council Resolution 143 adopted on 14 July 1960. The resolution called upon the Government of Belgium to withdraw its troops from the territory of the Congo. The resolution authorised the Secretary-General to facilitate the withdrawal of Belgian troops, maintain law and order, and help to establish and legitimise the post-colonial government.
The United Nations Operation in the Congo (French: Opération des Nations Unies au Congo, ONUC) was rapidly established and the first troops reached Congo on 15 July 1960, many airlifted by the United States Air Force as part of Operation New Tape.
Dáil Eireann quickly passed legislation allowing the deployment of Irish personnel to the Congo. Ireland became one of thirty countries from around the world to provide peacekeepers for the mission. Just over two weeks later the 635-strong 32nd Infantry Battalion ONUC departed for the Congo on 27 July 1960. A month later the Irish contingent was brought to 1,000 with the arrival of the 33rd Infantry Battalion ONUC. The Irish contingent was further boosted when an Armoured Car Group began operations in the Congo on 15 January 1961.
The ONUC mission in the Congo lasted from 1960 to 1964 during which time 6,000 Irish troops served in the Congo. During that time twenty six Irish soldiers lost their lives in the service of peace.