MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine president said Wednesday his government would no longer deploy peacekeepers in “impossible” missions like the Golan Heights, where Filipino forces came under attack by Syrian insurgents.
President Benigno Aquino III said hundreds of Filipino peacekeepers were tasked to guard a U.N.-patrolled buffer zone separating Israel and Syria. But when the Syrian civil war spilled over and Islamic militants started attacking the Filipinos and other peacekeepers, their mission became unclear and highly dangerous.
The Philippines decided to withdraw the peacekeepers ahead of schedule, ending a five-year presence in the increasingly volatile Golan Heights.
Philippine military officials also feuded with the head of the U.N. peacekeeping force, called UNDOF, over his handling of a standoff between Syrian rebels and outnumbered Filipino peacekeepers who fought back and finally escaped after reportedly refusing his order to surrender.
They were attacked by fighters from the Nusra Front, who captured 45 Fijian peacekeepers on the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan. The Fijians were freed after two weeks.
Philippine officials also wondered why the surrounded peacekeepers were not supported by U.N. rapid-reaction forces with armoured vehicles, similar to another group of besieged Filipinos who had been rescued.
The Philippines has sought a U.N. investigation into the circumstances surrounding the standoff.
Aquino said his government would base its decision whether to join future peacekeeping missions on the result of that investigation, stressing that “each life is important.”
“Our troops cannot be deployed to help in a situation where their mission is impossible or unclear,” Aquino said in a presidential palace ceremony, where he welcomed more than 340 Golan peacekeepers and pinned medals on some.
“As commander in chief and leader of this country, I don’t want to deploy you to handle a ‘mission impossible,'” Aquino told the troops accompanied by top military officials.
Despite the difficulties, U.N. officials and diplomats have insisted that UNDOF’s role is crucial to Middle East stability.