By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — In the wake of the U.S. terror attacks, the Irish government has decided to boost the army’s special forces capability and expand the highly trained and heavily armed Rangers Wing.
The army’s crack unit, the equivalent of the British SAS and the U.S. Delta Forces, is to take in another 30 members and may expand further.
Initially, a number of ex-Rangers currently attached to other army corps may be drafted in. But a new recruiting campaign is being planned for early next year.
A Department of Defense spokesman said the experience of former members of the Wing means the force could be rapidly reinforced. They would need minimal refresher courses in the special arms and high-tech equipment involved and could be quickly brought up to the necessary level of fitness.
“The decision to expand the Rangers has been taken as part of an overall review of capacities and procedures and an update of the threat assessment following the unprecedented U.S. attacks,” the spokesman said.
Recruiting to the special force from within the Defense Forces is a lengthy selection and training process.
About 85 percent of applicants are immediately turned down. Only a small number of those who reach the final selection process get through to the intensive training progr’m. The rigors of the training leads to further dropouts.
The army is reluctant to reveal details of the force that is based in the Curragh Camp and normally has a strength of 80 to 100.
A unit can “group up” and be ready to respond to an incident within two hours of an alert.
“Like other special services, they can operate in small teams on the ground. They can operate as a minimum of two in what is known as the buddy system. Regular military units operate as sections with 10 soldiers or with 30 at platoon level,” an army spokesman said.
Its motto, “The cleanliness of our hearts, the strength of our limbs, and our commitment to our promise,” is drawn from an old Fianna poem. They wear distinctive green berets and a special shoulder flash insignia.
In addition to its main role as an anti-terrorist force, it also trains for a variety of other duties, including VIP protection and operating behind enemy lines in hostile environments for long periods.
They are also tasked for intelligence gathering, capturing key personnel, anti-hijack operations, hostage rescue, sabotage and covert reconnaissance.
With rifles that have an effective range of over half a mile, they are crack shots and their training includes basic medical ability and specialist aid to the civil power when they are called in.
The gardai also has its similar specialist force, the Emergency Response Unit, a version of U.S. police SWAT teams. There is considerable rivalry between the two units.
Earlier this year the Rangers’ marksmanship skills were used to cull deer and goats in the Cooley Mountains in County Louth during the foot-and-mouth crisis.
In addition to its links with the SAS and Delta Forces, it has also trained with other foreign special forces, like France’s GIGN and Germany’s GSG9 units.
In 1992, rangers were stationed abroad for the first time when a small force accompanied a transport mission that took part in the UNOSOM contingent in Somalia.
However, the first major foreign deployment was in 1999. A large section of the force was posted as the “point-team” to work with the Australian Special Air Service as the first Irish unit into East Timor with the 8,000 strong UN IFET peacekeeping force.
Members shun publicity. The unit made no secret of its reluctance to parade publicly in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, to be given UN medals for their East Timor service.
They finally appeared in full camouflage paint in an effort to hide their identities.