Government may boost numbers of elite army wing

THE Government is considering proposals to boost the strength of an elite army unit following a terrorist threat assessment.

Senior military officers in the Defence Forces have called on the Department of Defence to sanction an increase in the size of the Army Ranger Wing (ARW).

The proposal would see a further expansion of the ARW from just under 100 to 120. The Department of Defence agreed to increase the strength of the special operations unit to 100 after assessments carried out before and after the September 11 attacks on the US.

Since then, further assessments carried out by the officer commanding of the ARW and senior officers in Defence Forces HQ have recommended a unit of 120 soldiers. “Since 9/11, proposals have been in place to increase the strength of the ranger wing up to 100. That was agreed,” said a spokesman for the Defence Forces.

“The review of the ranger wing in terms of establishment, weapons, tactics is ongoing,” he said.

The spokesman said as far as he knew, the proposal to increase the unit’s strength to 120 had not yet been sanctioned by the Department of Defence.

A spokesman for the department confirmed this.

It’s understood that ARW chiefs and senior defence chiefs are keen to see the unit expanded, given possible terrorist threats and the necessity to have a unit capable of a comprehensive response.

The ARW is divided into conventional warfare and specialist ‘Aid to the Civil Power’ roles.

The unit has played a key role in Irish involvement in UN peacekeeping operations, in East Timor and, most recently, in Liberia.

The ARW would be the front unit to deal with possible terrorist situations, such as an embassy siege in Dublin.

While the gardaí would have responsibility and could deploy the force’s own elite squad, the Emergency Response Unit, the ARW is the only unit in the country that could respond to a significant military or terrorist threat.

The ARW, which is based in the Curragh, yesterday began a new selection process. ARW candidates have to meet high standards for parachuting, boat handling, combat diving, navigation, use of sniper skills, explosives and communications.

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