The political progress that has been achieved in the North would not have been occurred without the British Army, a senior unionist claimed today.
As the Army’s 38-year military operation in the North entered its final days, Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson acknowledged the huge sacrifice made by the Army, Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and Royal Irish Regiment to secure relative peace in the North.
The former UDR member also insisted that although the British Army presence is being reduced from Wednesday to a peacetime garrison of 5,000 soldiers, there should be no complacency about the need to increase those numbers if needed.
“It has been a number of years since soldiers and police officers lost their lives as a result of terrorism,” he said.
“Substantial progress has been made but it is our view that we would not have got to the place we are in today with a relative degree of peace had it not been for the contribution of the Army in holding the line during what was a very intensive terrorist campaign.
“I believe the Army has achieved its objective in Northern Ireland in supporting the police in combatting terrorism.
“As Operation Banner comes to a close and we move to a garrison of just 5,000 soldiers, we must not be complacent. We need to ensure we have the capacity, should the need arise, for the Army to step into the breach to protect Northern Ireland.
“Hopefully, that will not need to happen.”
Operation Banner is the British Army’s longest continuous campaign in its history, with more than 300,000 personnel serving over 38 years.
They lost a total of 763 soldiers in the North.
Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth said: “August 1 marks the beginning of a new era for the UK Armed Forces in Northern Ireland when, as with other parts of the country, the military will become very much part of the community.
“The impact of the commitment since 1969 has been considerable on both the military themselves and on the MoD civilians supporting them.
“They and the community at large have suffered both death and injury.
“We should take this opportunity to remember the commitment, bravery and sacrifice of all those who have served over so many years in helping deliver the current, more settled and more optimistic circumstances.”