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France Downsizing UNIFIL Contingent

France is pulling 400 troops from its 1400 strong UNIFIL contingent as the force faces restructuring to become 'lighter and more effective'
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 3/13/2012, 10:42 PM

UNIFIL and IDF soldiers check rocket fired from Lebanon
UNIFIL and IDF soldiers check rocket fired from Lebanon
Flash 90

France announced Tuesday it will reduce the strength of its UNIFIL contingent in southern Lebanon by 400.

A statement said the decision had been made in concert with the United Nations and Lebanon following a strategic review of the mission of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters the French contingent would be reduced to around 1,000 troops. UNIFIL has some 12,000 soldiers from 35 countries, and is led by a large Italian contingent.

In August 2011, the UN Security Council asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to review UNIFIL's strategy. His report was presented to the Security Council, which extended UNIFIL's mandate for six months on 21 December.

France said it supported Ban's conclusions, which called for UNIFIL to become "lighter but more effective," and to "accelerate the handover of responsibility for security" to the Lebanese army.

"France reiterates its full support for the essential role of UNIFIL in support of the stability, independence and territorial integrity of Lebanon," Valero said, in his statement.

UNIFIL forces were targeted numerous times by terrorists who planted roadside bombs targeting their convoys in 2011. Five French peacekeepers were wounded on 9 December 2011 in one such attack.

While Lebanon's southern frontier with Israel has been relatively peaceful in recent months, tensions are running high in the region because of the year-old revolt in Syria and the bloody crackdown against rebels.

There are also fears that any conflict between Israel and Iran could trigger renewed attacks by Hizbullah, a Shiite terror movement sponsored by Tehran.

UN officials have said renewed hostilities could "impact" UNIFIL's continued operation in the region.

The UN Disengagement Observer Force was established in 1974, following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, to monitor the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan Heights.

It was expanded and turned into UNIFIL in 1978 to help Lebanon restore government control over southern Lebanon following conflict with Israel.

293 peacekeepers have been killed in Lebanon since 1974.