A bizarre British Army document has come to light which purports to summarise the lessons taken by the force from its engagement in conflict in the North of Ireland.
The review of the British Army’s war against the IRA suggests little or nothing was learned from its 37-year period of occupation, most disturbingly in regard to the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre.
The analysis is contained in a secret report on ‘Operation Banner’, the British Army’s name for the military occupation and resulting conflict in the North of Ireland, which was recently obtained by the Derry-based human rights group the Pat Finucane Centre.
The report does not discuss in any detail the killing of the 14 marchers in Derry nor the decision to use the murderous Parachute Regiment to police a civilian march; instead, it focusses on the obscure point of the deployment of soldiers in armoured vehicles rather than on foot.
While referring to the “defeat” of the Provisional IRA, the document makes only seven references to unionist paramilitaries in its 98 pages and none at all to acts of collusion or murder by the British Army’s Force Research Unit.
The report claims the only two examples of “poor military decision-making” to stand out over the 37 years were during the ‘Falls curfew’ and Bloody Sunday.
However, the reference to Bloody Sunday does not deal with the decisions to open fire on unarmed civilians in 1972.
The authors only highlight the “manner in which the arrest operation on Bloody Sunday was conducted, using vehicles to approach the crowd”.
“The decision to do so was not hasty but, with hindsight, seems heavy handed,” they say.
John Kelly, a brother of 17-year-old Bloody Sunday victim Michael Kelly, described the comments as “despicable”.
“They said the biggest lesson was the use of vehicles - they are not taking into account the loss of human life,’’ he said.
“The deaths on Bloody Sunday were totally immaterial. It is clear the people of Derry do not count to the British army.”
Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre also described the report as “deeply flawed”.
He said it offered a worrying insight into the thinking of senior officers and civil servants at the Ministry of Defence and called for it to be withdrawn immediately.
A British Army spokesman said the analysis considered high-level general issues which may be applicable to future campaigns.
The authors of the report point to ‘Operation Motorman’ in 1972 under which British forces took control of previous no-go areas in nationalist areas as a major turning point in the war.
The report lists as a “terrorist” 15-year-old Daniel Hegarty, shot dead in the Creggan area of Derry, despite an official British acknowledgement in 2002 that the teenager was as innocent civilian.
Daniel Hegarty’s sister, Margaret Brady. said the latest “debacle” showed her family was right to continue to campaign to have Daniel’s name cleared.
“The British army looked at their original documents and didn’t even check things out,” she said.
“Once again Daniel’s name has been wrongly blackened before the world. This document must be withdrawn immediately and Daniel’s good name must be restored.” she said.
The use of covert operations by the British army is also singled out as vital to its success in Ireland, with the Loughgall massacre highlighted as a breakthrough.
“PIRA seems to have been brought to believe that there was no answer to army covert operations and that they would not win through violence. That was probably a key factor,” the report says.
They say that while the British army did not win the war in “any recognisable way”, it achieved its “end-state”.
The report is significant for its failure to discuss Crown force collusion with unionist death squads, bizarrely claiming that its own notorious Ulster Defence Regiment had ensured “extreme loyalist violence was relatively rare”.
But among the most extraordinary statements in the report was a dismissive description of the motivation of IRA Volunteers as “a wish to glamourise a somewhat third-rate way of life, through esteem amongst the republican community or, more simply, in bars or with women.”
In his foreword, former British Army head General Mike Jackson said campaign [Operation Banner] is “one of the very few every brought to a successful conclusion by the armed forces of a developed nation against an irregular force”.
He said the “lessons learned” in Ireland have already been used in Afghanistan and Iraq.