Elite anti-terrorist units join forces for rescue exercise
HOLED up on the top floor of a disused building and held captive by two heavily armed terrorists, the British ambassador's son cowered in the corner of a barricaded room.
The young man had been kidnapped by gunmen from the Continuity IRA, the sole republican group opposed to the peace process.
After failing to persuade the gunmen to surrender through negotiation, the gardai with the approval of the Government called in the Army Ranger Wing to rescue the diplomat's son.
Five teams of six Rangers each members of the Defence Forces' elite counter-terrorist unit were sent into action. Each team had been assigned a specific task.
An Air Corps Alouette helicopter was on standby to take four Rangers who had been deployed to land on the roof of the target building.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the masked Rangers in their fireproof suits, quietly surrounded the building. Each man was armed with a Sig P226 pistol and an MP5 sub-machine gun as well as stun grenades.
An advance party of two moved close to the front door and laid an explosive device. The blast blew in the door and the Rangers swept into the building and crawled swiftly up the stairs.
The Rangers already knew where the hostage was being held but each passing room was checked out as they advanced along a corridor towards their target, remaining in radio contact through their ear ``defenders''.
The heavy firepower brandished by the soldiers forced the two CIRA men into submission. The kidnap victim was rescued without a scratch and afterwards the three joined the Rangers in a lunchtime curry served from a field kitchen.
It was an exercise that has been regularly repeated by the Rangers as part of their training for their primary role as a support group to the gardai in counter-terrorist operations.
But yesterday's exercise on the Curragh was slightly different as one of the teams included five members of the French anti-terrorist unit, GIGN (Groupe d'Intervention Gendarmerie Nationale).
The French are here for eight days for joint training with the Rangers part of a regular exchange of information and techniques between the two specialist groups.
The Rangers have been training with the GIGN since 1982 and sent a unit to France last year.
They have also trained overseas with the German GSGN and the Swedish K3 and apart from hostage rescue, this week's exercise includes sniper training, an anti-hijack workshop and explosive-entry techniques.
Members of the gardai's anti-terrorist group, the Emergency Response Unit, also intend to visit the exercise as observers.
Earlier this year they joined forces with the Rangers in a special aircraft hijack workshop designed to work out the demarcation of duties between the units in an actual incident.
At present about 85pc of Ranger training is geared towards anti-terrorist work but if the peace process continues the commanding officer expects they will focus more on their conventional role to act as a special forces group in a purely military scenario.
In January last year they were close to being called in to intervene in the hostage drama at Mountjoy jail in Dublin.
It's tough work being a Ranger, with an 82pc failure rate among volunteers. It has an overall strength of about 100 personnel and members usually spend about 10 years with the unit.