Operation Banner, the operational name for the British Armed Forces‘ operation in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007 as part of the Troubles, ends at midnight on July 31, 2007. It is one of the longest continuous deployments in British military history.
The British Army is initially deployed, at the request of the unionist government of Northern Ireland, in response to the August 1969 riots. Its role is to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and to assert the authority of the British government in Northern Ireland. At the peak of the operation in the 1970s, about 21,000 British troops are deployed, most of them from Great Britain. As part of the operation, a new locally-recruited regiment is also formed, the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). After the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the operation is gradually scaled down and the vast majority of British troops are withdrawn.
In August 2005, it is announced that in response to the Provisional IRA declaration that its campaign is over, and in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement provisions, Operation Banner would end by August 1, 2007. This involves troops based in Northern Ireland being reduced to 5,000, and only for training purposes. Security is entirely transferred to the police. The Northern Ireland Resident battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, which had grown out of the Ulster Defence Regiment, stand down on September 1, 2006. The operation officially ends at midnight on July 31, 2007, making it the longest continuous deployment in the British Army’s history, lasting over 38 years.
While the withdrawal of troops is welcomed by the nationalist parties Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin, the unionist Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party oppose the decision, which they regard as premature. The main reasons behind their resistance are the continuing activity of republican dissident groups, the loss of security-related jobs for the protestant community and the perception of the British Army presence as an affirmation of the political union with Great Britain.
According to the Ministry of Defence, 1,441 serving British military personnel die in Operation Banner, 722 of whom are killed in paramilitary attacks and 719 of whom die as a result of other causes. The British military kills 307 people during the operation, about 51% of whom are civilians and 42% of whom are members of republican paramilitaries.
(Pictured: Two British soldiers on duty at a vehicle checkpoint near the A5 Omagh/Armagh road junction)