Standoff in NORTHERN IRELAND
(Page 3 of 3)
But Britain does appear to have successfully employed one clandestine unit in Northern Ireland.London Sunday Times journalist Tony Geraghty in his book about the elite Special Air Service (SAS) entitled "Who Dares Wins" asserts that one of its most "impressive achievements" in Ulster has been its record of arms hauls and terrorist arrests. In Republican circles the regiment, which pulled off a dramatic hostages rescue at the Iranian Embassy in London last year, is regarded as something akin to the hated "Black and Tans" and Auxiliaries, who waged a ruthless campaign against the IRA in 1920-1921. Activist priests Denis Faul and Raymond Murray have accused the unit of over a score of murders.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In tackling the IRA, the Army and police have not only had to take on its hardened gunmen but its women members as well, who place firebombs, gather intelligence, and find shelter for IRA men. Likewise the youth wing of the IRA has fought on its own way -- transporting guns and bombs, staging incidents, carrying messages, and warning of approaching security forces.
To flush the IRA from the Catholic ghettos of Belfast and Londonderry, military experts say, the British Army would have to employ the sort of ruthlessness and widespread torture that French para-troops under Gen. Jacques Massu used when they rooted National Liberation Front terrorists out of the Algiers casbah in 1957 -- tactics wholly unacceptable to the British government.
The Army's official position on its 12-year campaign against IRA guerrillas is that it has "contained them so that the vast majority of the people in the province can live normal lives." But it has no illusions about defeating the terrorist movement, regarding that as the task of politicians, many of whose positions have become increasingly polarized of late.
When it admits that the struggle could "easily" go on for another 12 years, it is perhaps mindful of the top-secret report prepared in 1978 by the intelligence staff of the British ministry of Defense that predicted the IRA "will probably continue to have the manpower they need to sustain violence during the next five years."
The report, which mysteriously fell into IRA hands in 1979, declared, in the words of its author, Brig. [now Maj.-Gen.] James Glover, that "intelligent, astute, and experienced terrorists" provided the organization's backbone. The caliber of the rank and file, it added, did not support the view that they are "mindless hooligans drawn from the unemployed and unemployable." With a disinterested professionalism the brigadier praised the IRA's bombing techniques and improvised mortars, and suggested that it might improve its arsenal by acquiring, among other things, Israeli-made Uzi submachine guns.
General Glover and those he consulted saw little prospect of any political development "which would seriously undermine the Provisionals' position." His report predicted that the IRA would retain sufficient popular support to maintain secure bases in the traditional Republican areas, support that the best efforts of the security forces have failed to eliminate, as Sinn Fein spokesman Richard McAuley points out.
After 12 years of hunting the IRA through the grim working-class districts of Belfast and Londonderry, and through the fields and hedgerows of the border country, the British Army can console itself with the fact that it has become as adept as an army can be at countering revolutionary guerrilla warfare, particularly in an urban context. Though officers recoil at the suggestion it might be used on the mainland to contain any renewed rioting, they do concede that experience in Ulster has uniquely fitted it for such a role.
The British Army in Ulster will fight on as its predecessors did in the jungles of Malaya and the mountains of Cyprus, waiting patiently for a political solution to the bitter conflict.
But the Royal Artillery colonel is not confident that, as yet, there is a solution. "I feel a miracle is required to bring people to their senses," he says.