Defence Forces to train US and UK bomb teams
Obama praises Ireland's small but significant role in Nato-led operation in Afghanistan
The Defence Forces is to train American and British bomb disposal teams to deal with the threat from Taliban booby traps in Afghanistan.
And teams from other countries are arriving here in the coming months to learn techniques from the Army's Ordnance Corps, which is seen as having the most experienced and professional bomb disposal skills in the world.
US President Barack Obama made reference to Ireland's small but significant input into the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The Defence Forces keeps a team of seven ordnance officers at the ISAF headquarters in Kabul where they analyse the developing threat from booby trap bombs, known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
There are seven Irish Army experts in Kabul along with six gardai who are helping to train the Afghan National Police.
The ISAF counter-IED programme was largely developed by Irish ordnance officers who have had continuous experience in dealing with improvised bombs throughout the Troubles in the North as well as in Lebanon.
Many of the techniques used by the Taliban and before that the insurgents in Iraq are directly evolved from IRA bomb makers who shared their techniques with the Hezbollah in Lebanon who, in turn, passed them on to their masters in Iran.
The Iranians are known to have passed on much of the technology of improvised bombs and their use to the Taliban.
In his address on St Patrick's Day, President Obama made the first public reference by any foreign leaders to Ireland's input in the Nato-led operation in Afghanistan as well as allowing the use of Shannon Airport for US military aircraft.
He said: "Ireland obviously plays an important role in the world. We want to thank you for the operations at Shannon that are so vital for us moving our troops into Afghanistan. It is a testimony to Ireland's friendship to us. In addition, Ireland actually has trainers in Afghanistan that have provided us with great assistance. And I expressed my appreciation for those sacrifices. We've worked together on issues like international food security, and we will continue to work on those issues as well."
The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed last week that Ireland has provided €22m since 2005 in aid "to support humanitarian and reconstruction needs in Afghanistan and has committed a further €20m of funding for development-related activity until the end of 2012".
The department said it expects to maintain our seven military personnel deployed with the ISAF "for the foreseeable future".
It added: "We are also supporting the EU civilian police mission in its efforts to train the Afghan National Police and promote peace and security in a society based on the rule of law.
"There are six members of An Garda Siochana and two senior rule of law experts, the latter contracted by the Department of Foreign Affairs, currently serving with the mission."
As well as the Defence Forces and garda members in Afghanistan, there are almost 2,000 soldiers from the Irish Guards and Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army currently serving in Afghanistan, including many from the Republic and Northern Ireland.