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Troops undergoing intensive training ahead of deployment to Syria

Irish troops have been undergoing intensive training to counter anything they may face during their upcoming deployment to potentially one of the most dangerous regions in the world.

The 130-strong 59th Infantry Group has been on day and night exercises at Lynch Camp, Kilworth, Co Cork preparing to deploy with the United Nations inside war-torn Syria.

They undertook a wide range of exercises today. These included CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) counter-measures, mine and IED (Improvised Explosive Device) detection and anti-ambush tactics.

Combat readiness will be key to their six-month-long tour in Syria – which has been rocked by years of bloody civil war and the fight to dislodge fanatical Islamic State (IS) fighters from their strongholds.

The advance contingent of the 59th Infantry Group will deploy to Camp Faouar, 25kms inside Syria on March 24, with the rest following on April 2.

Irish troops were forced to withdraw from that camp in August 2014 after they and fellow UN peacekeepers came under sustained attack from Islamic extremists.

The UN regained control of the camp last September and, amongst other operations, it will be the Irish contingent's job to clear unexploded shells etc from UN outposts in areas which have yet to be reoccupied.

The troops – which include seven women – will be led by Lieutenant Colonel Louis Flynn, who watched them being put through their paces today.

He is acutely aware of the potential volatility of the area, describing it as “a very complex security environment".

The region has been fought over in a new Cold War-era battle between Russia, the US, Britain, France, and their proxy allies. Add to the mix Islamic State and a major refugee crisis.

When deployed, his troops will be the UN's 'quick reaction force', tasked with being fully operational within 15 minutes of a call-out. As the senior officer explained, this will be on a 24/7 basis for the entire six-month deployment.

Therefore, he and his officers don't want to leave anything to chance with the troops' intensive training, which started on Jan 2 and will continue in the Glen of Imaal and other training areas in the run-up to them flying out.

Although some of them will be equipped with electronic mine-detectors, they won't always be on hand in the field and the troops were today down on their bellies 'doing it the old fashioned way' by probing the ground with sharp instruments to locate them.

The contingent will also be made up of some personnel from the Air Corps and Naval Service.

It is composed to be self-sufficient as it will consist of engineering, medical, ordinance, transport and logistics experts.

The average age of those travelling to Syria is 32 and between them they have carried out 230 overseas tours of duty already. However, for 39 it will be their first foreign tour. The youngest is 21 and the most experienced, a Battalion Sergeant Major, has completed 14 missions abroad.