Monday, June 25, 2007

Spanish Troops The Target In Lebanon

Perhaps it is a bit surprising that it has taken so long for something to happen to the Spanish troops belonging to the UN force in Lebanon. It was never going to be the quietest of missions, but yesterday the death of 6 Spanish soldiers made it a competitor with the already dangerous situation in Afghanistan. It is not known who is responsible for the car bomb that killed these soldiers, although attention has so far focused on Fatah Al Islam, the group linked to Al-Qaeda who have been involved in fighting with the Lebanese army in recent weeks. Given the number of players involved in Lebanon, there is no shortage of candidates between those who might simply be against the presence of any European troops in the country, to those who are more interested in maintaining the tension in this region on the border with Israel. The area is still controlled by Hezbollah, who quickly denied any involvement in the attack.

The fact that 3 of the 6 who were killed are Colombian nationals highlights again the extent to which foreigners have become a significant presence in the Spanish forces. Despite only forming about 5% of the total number of those in the armed forces, about 30% of those serving in missions overseas are of immigrant origin. It appears that the units which they are permitted to join are restricted, and include many of those most likely to be involved in active operations. Only last year, a Peruvian soldier serving in the Spanish army was killed in Afghanistan.

I don't whether those who last year were hoping for a few deaths in Lebanon to cause problems for the government are feeling happy today. Opposition leader Mariano Rajoy has reacted in typical style, with the now traditional attempts to pretend that participating in a UN mission in Lebanon is just the same as Aznar's decision to take part in the invasion of Iraq. It should be a lost cause, but they never stop trying.

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