The reluctant Green Jackets who patrol the streets

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The Independent Online

The sight of British troops patrolling the streets of Northern Ireland was hoped by many to be a thing of the past - not least the soldiers themselves.

The sight of British troops patrolling the streets of Northern Ireland was hoped by many to be a thing of the past - not least the soldiers themselves.

Members of the Royal Green Jackets last night continued to patrol the Shankhill Road in Belfast after being called in on Monday night to help the RUC regain control of the area in the face of loyalist gang violence.

The move to deploy 100 troops from the 1st Battalion of the Royal Green Jackets in conjunction with RUC patrols sparked despondency among many in a community increasingly accustomed to peace.

It was the first time in two years that the camouflage uniforms and rifles of the British Army had been seen in Ulster's capital after troops were withdrawn to barracks and patrols halted in 1998.

A military source said: "It is not a task approached with great glee or enthusiasm by each individual soldier but they are there to be called on when they are thought necessary. It was felt that they would help restore order in the Shankhill area and a diminution in disorder over the past 24 hours has occurred. They will remain with the RUC until they are no longer wanted."

The Royal Green Jackets, who were not set to be joined by any other Army units, have seen extensive service in the province and have suffered a share of casualties as a result.

Perhaps the most shocking atrocity against the regiment, which is based in Winchester, Hampshire, was the 1982 IRA bombing of its band in Regents Park in London. Six soldiers were killed.

Army chiefs underlined that the deployment, which represents a tiny proportion of the 13,500 British military personnel in Northern Ireland, was intended to be temporary. The source added: "This is the sort of operation the Army is good at. It is a surgical deployment designed to change the atmosphere and then get out again and leave policing to the RUC."

Troop numbers in Northern Ireland currently stand at their lowest since the start of the Troubles in 1969. The total peaked a year later at 30,000 in 1970. The implementation of the Good Friday Agreement has seen 34 out of 105 bases in Northern Ireland closed and the departure of units from regiments including the Paras, the Royal Marines and the Royal Anglian.

The level of 13,500 personnel in the province yesterday followed a phased reduction from about 18,000 at the time of the first IRA ceasefire in 1994.

An eventual reduction to between 6,000 and 8,000 is thought to be envisaged by the Government although Dublin wants to see around half that number remaining in the province.

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