BEIRUT: Spain’s defense minister has pledged to withdraw half of his country’s troops from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon by the end of the year due to financial considerations, according to Spanish news agency EFE.
The announcement by Defense Minister Pedro Morenes Wednesday is part of a broad commitment by Spain to reduce some of their international obligations in line with austerity measures in the financially beleaguered nation.
Morenes confirmed the that the reduction was primarily driven by economic motivations, EFE reported.
The Spanish contingent, based out of Marjayoun in the south, is currently 1,017 peacekeepers strong and will be reduced by about 500 soldiers by the end of the year if Spain follows through with its plan.
The announcement is an expedited withdrawal of their force. Spain had initially planned to reduce their peacekeepers by 200 in 2012 and remove 300 more in 2013.
UNIFIL officials say troop reductions typically coincide with force increases by other nations, so UNIFIL operations are unlikely to be impacted.
But the reduction also is in line with a general drawdown of Western forces from the UNIFIL peacekeeping mission after several bombings targeting Western peacekeepers. The most recent bombing wounded five French peacekeepers in a patrol near Tyre.
Other nations such as Italy have significantly reduced their peacekeeping presence, making Eastern nations some of the largest force contributors.
After Spain’s reduction, the largest force contributors will be Indonesia, followed by Italy and France as well as Nepal, India, Ghana and Malaysia, who all contribute around 1,000 peacekeepers each.
In total UNIFIL, which redeployed as a larger peacekeeping force in 2006, has 11,780 peacekeepers. The U.N. recently completed a review of the force’s operations recommending a re-commitment to basic peacekeeping duties, as well as an increase in the Lebanese Army’s responsibilities.