Top Helmand bomb expert sent to Northern Ireland to tackle dissident threat
One of the most senior counter-explosives officers in the Army has been sent to Northern Ireland to help plan the strategy to combat the rising violence from dissident republicans.
Military and security officials met in Belfast yesterday to discuss increasing the number of bomb disposal officers here in the face of the new threat.
The senior officer, with extensive experience of Afghanistan, is among teams of experts flying into Belfast to carry out assessments, and counter-IED (improvised explosive devices) specialists are now being regularly rotated between Helmand and Ulster.
The number of explosive specialists in Northern Ireland has risen to almost the same level as when the British military operation, Operation Banner, ended three years ago.
Personnel from the 321 EOD Squadron, who are responsible for bomb disposal duties in Northern Ireland, “are now busier than they have been for years”, said a senior officer.
“They are now out every day — the workload has gone up significantly and we are reaching the number of personnel we had at the end of Operation Banner.
“These numbers may well have to go up again.”
The 22 bombings in the whole of last year has already been exceeded by 49 in the first eight months of this year.
On Monday an eight-year-old boy picked up a loyalist pipe-bomb he had found in his school playground in Antrim. But it is the extent of the sophistication being seen as the militants' campaign gathers momentum which is causing the most concern.
According to security and military sources, the expertise has been brought over by former Provo bomb-makers who have joined the dissidents.
“This is not entirely surprising, that knowledge was always present among PIRA members in places like south Armagh and we now appear to be seeing a transfer of technology.
“What is noticeable is the number of car bombs and booby traps which are being brought into play and how they are being armed.
“We are also seeing a degree of callousness in the use of ‘proxy bombs' which we certainly did not see from PIRA for many years.”