Irish Ranger Wing handed key role in elite EU battle-group
Highly trained members of the Defence Forces' elite special unit, the Ranger Wing, are to play a key role in a new EU battle-group.
It will be the first deployment of the Rangers as a unit in overseas duties in a decade.
Small groups of Rangers have been sent abroad in the interim to provide close-in protection for senior Irish military personnel and put on standby for visits by government ministers to foreign "hotspots". But the Ranger Wing has not been active overseas as a unit since it was included in the initial Defence Forces deployment in the peace enforcement mission in Chad in 2008.
It was learned last night that the Ranger Wing will form a "significant element" within the 148-strong military detachment participating in a German battle-group and will spearhead a special operations task group.
This task group will comprise a special operations platoon, engineers with specialist search capabilities, an army bomb disposal unit and a security platoon. The role of the Rangers will be largely similar to that in Chad and they will prepare for tasks such as long-range reconnaissance, gathering intelligence and target acquisition.
The Government gave its approval for Ireland's participation this week.
The battle-group will be on standby for the second half of 2020 and a live joint training exercise will take place in Germany before then. The cost of taking part in that exercise is expected to be around €1m and will come out of the existing defence budget.
Any deployment of the battle-group must be sanctioned by the Dail to complete the "triple lock" mechanism used for all overseas missions, with the United Nations already supporting the EU battle-group concept.
The decision to hand such key tasks to the Rangers is indication of the high esteem in which the specialist unit is held within the EU.
Participation in the battle-group will also allow the Rangers to upgrade their capabilities and the expertise gained in training with troops from the other member countries - Germany, Czech Republic, Croatia and the Netherlands - will also be put to use domestically.
Previous training exercises with troops from other countries allowed the specialist units from the defence forces to use their knowledge and experience in the huge security operations mounted here for the visits of Queen Elizabeth and former US president Barack Obama.
The deployment will lead to significant investment in the equipment available to the Irish troops, to ensure it is at least comparable with other contributing nations.
Making the case for government approval, Minister with Special Responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe highlighted the benefits of increasing capability for the troops and the prestigious role being allocated to the Irish within the battle-group.
The battle-group is a stand-by military capability that enables the EU to react rapidly and decisively to a crisis, if requested by the UN.
Ireland has previously participated in the Nordic battle-groups in 2008, 2011 and 2015 and the UK-led battle-group in 2016.