Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Turkish UNIFIL troops winning hearts and minds with development projects
‘We receive high interest and support for our activities’
By Cagil Kasapoglu
Special to The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Turkish Armed Forces are the second largest army in NATO and one of the main contributors to United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), with an average of 1,000 personnel serving alongside other states. “Locals in the region are very sympathetic to Turkish forces,” said Major Ali Fatih Aldemir, who leads the Turkish troops operating in Tyre.
“We receive high interest and support for our activities contributing in development process. Once our flag comes in to their region, we all of a sudden become surrounded by locals offering their warmest smiles. We believe that the cultural similarities we have with Lebanon create a significant sympathy which is reflected in their attitudes toward our forces,” said Aldemir.
Within the UNIFIL ground operations 237 military and 24 civilian officials have been serving in the Turkish Engineering Construction Unit in Chatiyeh, located about eight kilometers east of Tyre, since October 20, 2006.
The summer war of 2006 had a large impact on Tyre, as the aftermath of the fighting left a significant number of children without schools and families without power. After the war and along with many other countries, the Turkish state committed a total of $30 million to contribute to reconstruction efforts.
The aid included civilian and military programs. Eleven computer classes were furnished, and 25 generators were provided to combat the impact of daily power outages in the south. Additionally, two water filters and water tanks were provided to schools in need of clean water.
“Our recent project was on building football grounds and organizing football tournaments for the residents in Tyre,” said Aldemir, adding that their future projects would be based on handicap facilities.
The troops provide maintenance activities, food donations, explosive information seminars and sport activities. Health operations have helped 5,013 citizens who checked into an infirmary. Periodic medical health inspections were also being held in schools and villages.
A Turkish and Lebanese Women’s educational center was also established in Malikkiye Village in order to help women to get jobs and be more productive in society.
“Turkish military forces’ projects are not yet limited with those numbers,” said Colonel Tayfun Albayrak, the Turkish military attach�.
“Construction operations of Turkish UNIFIL forces will continue to serve in southern region in order to provide necessary aid for the locals,” he added.
Turkey has also increased its troop contribution to the maritime component of UNIFIL with an additional deployment of three ships to monitor Lebanon’s territorial waters that are aimed at securing the coastline and preventing arms smuggling. The maritime force also includes contributions from Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Norway and Sweden.
As of 2009, the total number of Turkish forces serving in UNIFIL reached an average of 1,000. A total of around 13,500 personnel from 30 countries take part in UNIFIL, meaning that Turkey is one of the largest contributions toward the reconstruction efforts in the region.
To begin its aid, Turkey overcame opposition and protests in the fall of 2006 when the Turkish Parliament voted to authorize the government to send troops to the UN forces in Lebanon.
Since then, Turkey has dispatched forces in particular naval units, and helped in training the Lebanese army while supporting allied countries in naval and air transportation.
“Similar peacekeeping and reconstruction operations have been held in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well,” said Albayrak, adding that the Turkish forces will be operating in conflict zones where military and social support is needed.