The 38-year-old British Army operation in Northern Ireland comes to a close tonight, ending the longest-running campaign in the history of the service. Since troops were sent in in 1969, more than 300,000 personnel have taken part in ‘Operation Banner’. Many of the watchtowers, which had become symbols of hatred and division for some parts of the community, have been dismantled.
Troops were sent to Northern Ireland in August 1969 as civil rights demonstrations erupted into violence between Protestants and Catholics. Their role was to support the police. The troubles, as the conflict became known, escalated over the following three decades. About 3,600 people died, 763 of them British troops.
At its height in 1972, 27,000 British soldiers patrolled the streets and fields of Northern Ireland. A peacetime garrison of 5,000 will remain, but security will now be the sole responsibility of the police.