ABSTRACT

At midnight on 31 July 2007 the Union Jack was lowered from the flagpole inside Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, the headquarters of the British military command. Without fanfare, without ceremony, this event marked the official end to ‘Operation Banner’, the longest operation in British military history. For thirty-eight years the British army had engaged in a turbulent conflict on the streets and in the countryside of Northern Ireland. What began as a campaign to reduce urban civil disturbance quickly spiralled into a vicious counter-insurgency campaign that polarised communities and normalised violence as the army and a myriad of sectarian paramilitary groups sought to gain the strategic momentum over what came to be known, in a gross act of understatement, as the ‘Troubles’. Slow lesson learning in the early phases of the conflict would have significant ramifications on the level of violence. Within the first decade of the ‘Troubles’ some 2,000 lives had been lost 1 – two-thirds of the eventual death toll in a conflict to last nearly another twenty years. Belated operational potency on behalf of the British army, achieved in large part by effective intelligence, would keep the fire of this slow-burning strategy going.