Massive troop withdrawal in Northern Ireland

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The Independent Online

Another 5,500 troops are to be withdrawn from Northern Ireland as long as the peace process holds, the Ministry of Defence has said.

Another 5,500 troops are to be withdrawn from Northern Ireland as long as the peace process holds, the Ministry of Defence has said.

The MoD revealed plans to close up to 42 military bases depending on a long-term security assessment.

Those facing possible closure are a Belfast military hospital, and bases in Londonderry, Coleraine, Lisburn, Antrim and Dungannon.

The number of soldiers in the troubled Province is currently 13,500 - the lowest in 30 years -.

The MoD said its ultimate aim was to cut the number of regular service personnel permanently on duty to about 8,000.

A statement said: "As an overall aspiration, the number of military bases in Northern Ireland will reduce further from the current 64 to no more than 20."

The MoD said the measures were consistent with both the current security situation and the long-term intention to reduce the military garrison to a level comparable to other parts of the UK.

But the statement stressed: "The rate at which this process can develop will depend on continued progress in political and security terms.

"The MoD remains committed to providing the full range of operational capabilities required to support the police in carrying out their duties, for as long as that support is needed."

At the height of the violence in Northern Ireland there were an estimated 30,000 troops on duty.

The MoD's long-term plan to scale down the military presence came as the Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan announced moves to demolish six military bases on the Irish border with Co.Fermanagh and one at Long Kesh, beside the Maze Prison, near Lisburn, Co.Antrim.

The jail is due to shut next week.

Since 1995, in the aftermath of the IRA's first ceasefire, the Army has closed or demolished 41 of the 105 bases and installations.

Several major military bases, including, Lisburn, Aldergrove, Antrim, Holywood, Omagh, Ballykelly, Ballykinler and Ballymena will stay open.

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