Rangers unit is an elite fighting machine


Among the specialities and individual skills of the 40-strong group of Army Rangers going to East Timor are the following: sniping and other advanced shooting techniques; assaults on buildings; demolition with explosives; parachuting and abseiling from helicopters; and long-range patrolling.

The unit will be armed with some of the latest and most deadly firearms available on the market. These will include sniper rifles which can kill people up to distances of a mile, medium machine-guns, sub-machineguns, pump-action shotguns, assault rifles and probably rocket launchers. Most of the weapons will have image intensifying - or night - sights.

The soldiers, all members of the Army Ranger Wing, the ARW, are trained to a point known as "extreme fitness" and survive in the most difficult conditions. There are about 100 Rangers, all on 24-hour stand-by. They have trained with other countries' special forces and most of the 40 soldiers going will have had jungle experience. The Army says the Rangers are on a par, in terms of skills, with the special forces troops of any army in the world.

While there was no official description of the group's role, there was considerable comment in the Defence Forces about the decision to deploy such a unit.

No such special forces unit has been deployed abroad before. Individual Rangers have served on UN missions in which Irish units have had roles, but the Rangers have been there only to provide additional protection in difficult areas. Of the two 80-strong transport units which served with the UN in Somalia in 1992-1993, at least a dozen of the soldiers were Rangers but they were required to perform mainly protection duties.

There are a few Rangers serving with the Irish transport unit in Kosovo, again mainly on protection duties.

Individual Rangers serve with the Irish UNIFIL Battalion but not as Rangers per se. They carry out the same duties as the other peacekeepers in Lebanon.

The deployment of the Rangers, as a group, marks a major departure in Irish military and foreign policy, military sources said last evening.

Until now, Irish troops have served only in peacekeeping or support roles with UN missions. The participation of the transport unit in Somalia (which is identical to the unit now serving in Kosovo) required an Act of the Dail because Somalia was defined as a peace "enforcement" rather than a purely peace "keeping" mission. Since then, however, the Government has agreed to the Defence Forces' participation in the Sfor (Stability Force) mission in former Yugoslavia - with soldiers serving for the first time under NATO command, albeit within the remit of a UN Resolution. The mission in Kosovo is also NATO led.

Within a month the Republic is expected to join Partnership for Peace, the NATO-led alliance, which could lead the Defence Forces into further new ground on foreign missions. In preparation for this, the Army is upgrading its armoury and acquiring 40 armoured personnel carriers at an initial cost of £40 million.