Unifil post with soldier.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The small group of Ghanaian soldiers manning UNIFIL Position 6-52, to the west of the village of Maroun a-Ras, less than a kilometer from the border, hasn't left its base in the last two weeks.
"Those are the orders of our superior officers," explains one of them who presents himself as commander of the post, but refuses to give his name. "We have been visited by our officers three times since the fighting began and a supply truck arrives here every three or four days."
On the wall nearest to the gate of the white-washed building is an "Alert State" board with the arrow pointed to black. But none of their information on the current situation has come from their own sources. "We know what's going on from the television," says the commander.
Even the deaths of four UNTSO members on Tuesday night in an IAF bombardment, at a base not so far away, wasn't communicated to them from headquarters. That, too, they learned from TV.
The current contingent from Ghana has been in Lebanon for three months. The soldiers at the post are charged with patrolling and monitoring, with their single jeep, the area where the heaviest fighting has been going on for the last 10 days. The fact that Hizbullah has been well entrenched in the area ever since Israel's withdrawal six years ago - with hundreds of fighters, well stocked ammunition depots and extensive fortifications - seemed to have escape the Ghanaians notice. "I have never seen one of them," says the soldier. "You cannot easily identify them in the population."
The UNIFIL soldiers have "zero contact" with the Lebanese living in the surrounding towns and villages. All their supplies are brought by UNIFIL, and they never go out for recreation, aside from periods of leave in Beirut.
The supply of "peacekeeping" troops to the various blue-helmet forces of the UN is a major source of income for Ghana's army; they have soldiers in Ivory Coast, Liberia and Congo. The troops operate in rotations of six months. Those currently serving on the border profess to have never heard of the accusations that the force has cooperated with Hizbullah in the past and allowed the organization to build its posts next to UNIFIL bases.
However, they are aware of the ongoing debate over the force's future and the growing support for a new multinational force to replace UNIFIL.
"The problem is not UNIFIL," says the soldier at the gate. "It's the mandate we have from the UN. That is what decides our job. In my personal opinion, if UNIFIL's mandate was changed and the force increased, it would be more efficient."
At the beginning of the fighting, a number of bombs exploded around the UNIFIL post, including one 150 meters from the gate. Two weeks later, the area around the post is quiet, except for the distant thud of artillery fire. Hizbullah has been banished from this small part of Lebanon. IDF Merkava tanks roar through a nearby opening in the border fence. There isn't even a guard at the border and Israeli and foreign journalists pass in and out unhindered.
The Ghanaian soldiers weren't even aware of the breach in the fence they are supposed to monitor, by mandate of the United Nations.