United Nations Observer Group in Lebanon (UNOGIL)
International Operation Name: United Nations Observer Group in Lebanon
International Operation Dates: 1958/06/14 – 1958/12/09
Mandating Organization: United Nations
Region Name: Middle East
Canadian Operation Name: United Nations Observer Group in Lebanon (UNOGIL)
Canadian Operation Dates: 1958/06/21 –1958/12/24
Mission Mandate: To ensure that there is no illegal infiltration of personnel or supply of arms or other materiel across the Lebanese borders.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 128 (SCR 128/1958)
Lebanon was a troubled country in 1958. Not only was there dissatisfaction with its sectarian based political structure, but there was also evidence that the newly created United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria was supplying arms and agents to dissident factions. Civil war seemed imminent. Responding to a call from President Camille Chamoun, on 11 June 1958 the Security Council authorized the Secretary General to create an observer group to “ensure that there is no illegal infiltration of personnel or supply of arms or other materiel across the Lebanese borders”.
Despite its mandate, which included the words “to ensure,” UNOGIL’s role was strictly limited to observation and analysis: it had no authority to take action to prevent illegal infiltration or to arbitrate local disputes. However, the belief in New York was that a quick UN response would have an effect in and of itself, and to that end Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold requested UNTSO to provide UNOGIL’s initial personnel. Accordingly, nine officers, including one Canadian, were made available and were in Beirut by 15 June; but the task of patrolling 278 miles of the Lebanon-Syria border was clearly beyond such a small group. UNOGIL grew in size, with Canada dispatching ten additional officers by 21 June. Seven more were dispatched in August, as UNOGIL’s strength was increased to two hundred in order to cope with an even more perplexing situation resulting from Lebanon’s direct request to the United States to provide American troops outside the UN framework to help prevent the outbreak of a civil war and to counter new threats based in Iraq and Jordan. They landed in mid-July, but their presence was not entirely helpful given American relations with some of Lebanon’s neighbours.
In an effort to expedite and smooth the withdrawal of the Americans, whose presence had clearly added to the tension, Hammarskjold recommended that the UNOGIL establishment be increased to five hundred, and to that end Canada provided an additional fifty-six officers and men. Other countries also increased their commitments, and accordingly It was in mid-November 1958 that UNMOGIL reached its peak strength of 591 personnel from twenty-countries manning forty-nine positions, manning eighteen surveillance aircraft and employing 290 vehicles for ground patrols.
By 9 December the mission was largely over. The elections that had been held in July brought forward an administration that was acceptable to most factions; the Americans left Beirut on 25 October; normal diplomatic relations were being restored with the United Arab Republic; and on 17 November, the Lebanese government requested that UNOGIL be disbanded. UNOGIL itself made the same recommendation. As a result, the first Canadians left a week later and all had returned to Canada by Christmas.
The Canadian contingent to UNOGIL numbered 77: 71 officers and 6 non-commissioned officers. One of the officers, a lieutenant-colonel, was in charge of UNOGIL’s ground operations. A further two officers and two NCOs on loan from UNTSO and UNEF also served with UNOGIL.
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