Salvadoran Troops are joining the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to help maintain the ceasefire agreement along the border between Lebanon and Israel, as well as provide humanitarian assistance for the victims of the conflict.
Under the imposing summer sun of the Salvadoran sky, the 52 members of the XI contingent of Blue Helmets from the Salvadoran Armed Forces (FAES) lifted their packs onto their shoulders on March 1st as they prepared to travel to the Middle East to join the United Nations (UN) Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
The mission for UNIFIL, which is made up of Troops from 30 countries, is to achieve a permanent ceasefire and long-term solution to the conflict between Lebanon and Israel. “We are protecting the civilian population, preventing more fighting in the area, and helping to stabilize the country,” stated Defense Minister David Munguía Payés during the farewell ceremony for the UNIFIL XI contingent. “For the FAES, it is always a great honor to join other Military forces that are working for world peace.”
UN Security Council Resolution 1701 extended UNIFIL’s presence until August 31st, stressing its positive role in establishing a new strategic environment that merits the intensification of this cooperation. The UNIFIL peacekeeping mission was established in March 1978, through an agreement by the U.N. Security Council. El Salvador’s presence in Lebanon is the result of Resolution 2115.
The FAES Troops are joining an important international mission to support the Israeli and Lebanese authorities in upholding the demarcation established by the UN on June 7, 2000. This border, known as the “blue line”, is a sign of the ceasefire between Lebanon and Israel, said Brigadier General Luis Walter Ortiz, Commander of the Salvadoran Military’s Doctrine and Military Education Command (CODEM).
The UNIFIL XI contingent – the largest ever assigned by the FAES to a peacekeeping operation – will spend three months at the El Goloso Military base in Madrid, Spain, where it will participate in peacekeeping training operations with the U.S. Army prior to deployment. Since 2008, the FAES has integrated 520 peacekeepers into the Spanish contingent.
Upon arriving in the Middle East, the Salvadoran Blue Helmets will help the Lebanese Armed Forces monitor the “blue line” and establish a weapons-free zone between that line and the Litani River. The UNIFIL XI will also support Israeli and Lebanese authorities in providing humanitarian assistance to victims of the conflict and repatriating displaced civilians.
The FAES Troops, who will also assist in disabling and destroying explosive devices, received training in this skill at the International Demining Center in Spain.
“We have trained for several weeks to join this mission,” said Colonel Raúl Armando Galán Hernández, one of the UNIFIL XI contingent’s commanders. “And while it is hard to leave our families, we are convinced that we are supporting an international effort to maintain peace and protect civilians who need us.”
The UNIFIL XI contingent previously trained at the CODEM Center for Peacekeeping Operations. The facility has a modern complex that was financed by a $1.3 million donation from the Global Fund for Peacekeeping Operations Program through the U.S. Southern Command and the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador.
“Our Troops participated in simulations of peacekeeping operations with all the characteristics of the situations they will face in the Middle East,” explained Brig. Gen. Ortiz during the UNIFIL contingent’s farewell ceremony. “We are confident in their abilities to adhere exactly to the expertise they have acquired.”