Standoff in NORTHERN IRELAND
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While the Protestant community views the British Army's presence in Ulster with appreciation, though feeling it could do more to crush the IRA, Republicans regard it as an occupying force and charge it with persistent harassment and brutality.Skip to next paragraph
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"Morale is very, very high," insists a spokesman at the Army's Northern Ireland headquarters at Lisburn near Belfast. He admits, however, that "everyone would like the whole wretched situation to disappear overnight." There are now 10,850 troops in Ulster as opposed to 21,000 in July 1972 during the height of "the troubles."
The Royal Ulster Constabulary, which suffered its 100th fatality recently when two gunmen shot a Roman Catholic constable in a Newry public house, makes similar claims for its morale. Indeed, it maintains that its losses only make the men and women in its ranks more determined to defeat the IRA and that the dangers it faces daily have not adversely affected recruiting.The force, whose armory contains US M-1 carbines, is attempting to increase its numbers by 400 -- to 7,500.
IRA terrorism has also taken the lives of 52 members of the RUC Reserve. Some 4,000 policemen and reservists have been wounded in the current campaign. "It's a long, ongoing struggle," says an RUC spokesman, conceding that the recent escape of eight Provisionals from the Crumlin Road Jail "tends to knock you back a bit."
Despite the fact that the Ulster Defense Regiment (UDR) has lost 114 men, this 7,518-strong, chiefly part-time force is enjoying "excellent" morale, according to Philip Goodhart, parliamentary undersecretary of state for the armed forces. There is a waiting list to join its full-time batallions, he says.
The regiment has taken over many duties from the British Army in what would appear to be an "Ulsterization" of the antiguerrilla campaign. It was called "a heavily armed gang of loyalist bigots" by the Provisional IRA newspaper Republican News last year. The UDR is an almost entirely Protestant force created to replace the RUC's discredited Special Constabulary, or "B Specials," and is reputed to have connections with loyalist paramilitary groups.
For the British Army in Ulster the battle against the IRA has been essentially one of intelligence. Details about the guerrilla army are obtained from the uniformed RUC, informers (who run the risk of being shot through the knees), undercover police and military units, and, it is thought, from telephone tapping and various electronic surveillance techniques. According to Richard McAuley, Provisional Sinn Fein spokesman in the Ulster capital, "Most telephones in west Belfast are bugged."
Although the Army has "lifted" hundreds of IRA terrorists and seized numerous caches of arms and ammunition, information-gathering by its undercover operatives is a dangerous and difficult undertaking.
"To be successful they actually have to be in the areas," explained a member of the IRA's general headquarters staff to Sinn Fein's Iris magazine recently. "They have to infiltrate reasonably tightknit communities. They have to put themselves into surveillance vantage points in either derelict buildings in urban areas or dugouts [trenches] in rural areas."
A further hindrance to intelligence gathering has been the reorganization of the IRa into a cellular format. "The structure which existed before was basically a command structure based on local areas," the senior IRA man told the magazine. "Now we are based on autonomous cells . . . unknown to all but a very small group of people."