Army team in talks on role for Rangers

 

An Irish Army reconnaissance team arrived in Australia early yesterday to establish precisely what role the Army Rangers will play in East Timor as part of the UN-mandated force there.

The Cabinet last week agreed to deploy a highly trained and heavily armed special services unit to the troubled country to assist in peace enforcement.

An Army spokesman last night confirmed that a three-man team travelled to Canberra over the weekend to prepare for the arrival of the 40 elite Rangers.

The team consisted of the Director of Operations of the Defence Forces, Col Frank Mc Kevitt, Capt Eoin Stapleton, and a logistics expert from Army headquarters and the officer commanding the Army Ranger Wing, who cannot be named for security reasons.

The first appointment for the unit yesterday in Canberra was to meet officers in Australian military headquarters.

They are to travel in the next few days to Darwin to meet Australian armed forces.

In Darwin, the reconnaissance team is expected to be briefed by the three Irish Army officers who stayed in the UN compound in East Timor until the evacuation, Lieut Col Pat O'Sullivan, Comdt Sean Fox and Comdt Matt Murray.

The Army spokesman said last night it was expected that the Ranger unit would be involved in a "high-profile security-type role" in East Timor.

"It was never envisaged that the Rangers would be used in a special forces aggressor-type role. The object of the reconnaissance is to thrash out precisely the role the Irish Rangers will play."

As the Rangers will be involved in UN peace enforcement duties as opposed to peacekeeping duties, Dail approval is needed. A resolution is expected to be passed when the Dail meets for the new term next week.

The Army has already started to prepare the 40 Rangers for the overseas mission.

"Personnel have already received inoculations which are necessary before they travel," said the spokesman.

The decision to deploy the Rangers brings to 900 the number of Irish troops serving overseas, or 10 per cent of the armed forces. "This is a high percentage and much greater than some of the bigger armies," said a spokesman.

This is the first time in the history of the Defence Forces involvement in UN missions that the Rangers have been deployed. Until now Irish military involvement in UN foreign missions has been restricted to peacekeeping or logistical support activities.