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UK Special Forces Operations: Northern Ireland

Britain’s Special Forces have been deployed operationally in at least 19 countries in the past decade, new analysis reveals, raising questions over the degree of transparency and democratic consent these shadowy units operate under. This section outlines the extent of UKSF’s operations in Northern Ireland.

2009

Belfast Telegraph: One theory is that the announcement on Friday that the Armed Forces Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) was being drafted back into Northern Ireland to keep watch on suspected dissident republican terrorists may have accelerated the timing of the attack on the army base. Although the shooting would have required considerable planning, including regular monitoring of visitors in and out of the Massereene Barracks in Antrim, the confirmation by Hugh Orde, the PSNI chief constable, of the arrival of the SRR appears too coincidental to be dismissed.

The unit deployed, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), was formed four years ago with the specific aim of targeting international terrorism. However, the core membership is drawn from 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment and Signals Regiment and many would have seen previous service in Ulster. Much of the covert-intelligence gathering skills of the SRR have also been honed in the province.

            Members of the SRR were put on the ground in Northern Ireland after a car bomb weighing 300lb was found at Castlewellan in County Down. Their main function, according to defence sources, was to carry out deep cover surveillance, including electronic eavesdropping, rather than take part in immediate offensive operations. “It wasn’t a question of them kicking down doors and shooting people in the middle of the night” insisted a senior officer “but providing some much needed intelligence for the police.”

2014

2014 onwards: A squadron of SAS and Special Reconnaissance Regiment troopers have been secretly working in Northern Ireland for the past three years.(Sun, Feb 2017) The elite troops were sent back to the province to track down and disrupt dissident Republican terrorists after their attacks began to spiral again in 2013. “Their undercover work is very difficult and dangerous, and they have to live behind the wire in tough conditions just like we had to in the worst days of the Troubles.” The source added: “The irony is nobody would even have known about their general service medals as they’re SF, so it’s pathetic they have been refused.” Defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth said: “Its seems to show immense disrespect for the very talented people who show immense bravery to make Northern Ireland safe.If they are deserving of recognition, they should receive it. The politics of Northern Ireland should not stand in the way of such awards.”

50 troops operating mostly in Andersonstown area, a Republican stronghold in West Belfast. (Express)

2015

Dissident republicans believed to be behind two recent murder bids on security forces are being tracked by a special Army unit in Belfast, it has been revealed. It’s further understood that undercover members of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) are using unmarked cars to monitor the activities of suspects as they travel around the city. (Belfast Telegraph)

2021

April: A Special Reconnaissance Regiment team (at least eight soldiers) have been deployed undercover to Northern Ireland amid a surge of protests and sectarian violence. The team will “help co-ordinate intelligence operations and attempt to identify the ringleaders behind the violence” (Mirror)