BY SIOBHÁN CRONIN
ARMOURED cars, men and women in uniform, and a drone, were all spotted in West Cork this week, and it wasn’t the latest Hollywood film being shot on location.
The reason for the military ‘invasion’ of the towns of Bantry, Skibbereen and Dunmanway this week, and last, was an army exercise by members of the 1 Bde in Collins Barracks in Cork.
Over 70 men and women were in training in the region, in preparation for a possible call-up with the UN forces, possibly in Africa.
If the call doesn’t come by June 30, the Cork soldiers won’t be needed for this mission, according to Skibbereen native, Cmdt Cathal Keohane.
Cmdt Keohane, who has served in Eritrea, Liberia and Bosnia, said if the troops are deployed, it will be part of the UN’s Rapid Reaction Force, to any conflict within a 6,000km radius of Brussels.
West Cork had been chosen for the current exercise, as most of the soldiers were unfamiliar with the terrain – as would be the case with any foreign assignment. Earlier exercises took place in Kerry and Clare, but this is one of the first times such a large group has come to West Cork.
Among the group’s equipment, which was put on public display at the GAA grounds in Skibbereen last Friday, are Mowag Swiss armoured personnel carriers and LTAV vehicles, made in South Africa. They also have a drone, which is used for surveillance on ‘opposing’ camps and terrain.
The group are based near Galvin’s garage in Dunmanway and have been carrying out observation and surveillance training in the Kealkil and Drimoleague areas.
‘We have information gathering units, and we are simulating conditions we would find in Africa,’ said Cmdt Keohane, ‘and playing out scenarios. We have terrorists and good guys, and we also have challenges, like getting diesel or food,’ he explained. ‘In Africa, we can’t just rock up to a garage and fill up with diesel.’
Cmdt Keohane said the public shouldn’t expect to hear much firing of weapons or other intrusive noise from the camps – ‘If we are shooting, we are losing,’ he said.
But he added that they had probably provided a good boost to the local economy during the week. ‘We have Galvin’s nearly sold out of cakes and coffee, anyway.’