Northern Ireland

Afghangistan bomb expert 'is sent to Northern Ireland'

The Ministry of Defence has refused to discuss a claim that one of the Army's most senior counter-explosives officers has been deployed to Northern Ireland.

The Independent newspaper said the officer has extensive experience of dealing with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan.

It claimed the officer is to "plan the strategy to combat the rising tide of violence from dissident republicans".

The MOD said it did not comment "on operational or tactical matters".

The newspaper report quoted an "unnamed senior officer" who said the number of bomb disposal personnel deployed to Northern Ireland has risen to almost the same level seen at the end of Operation Banner.

The Army's 38-year military operation supporting the police in Northern Ireland officially ended in July 2007.

The paper also claimed that Army IED specialists are now being "regularly rotated between Helmand and Ulster" and MI5 agents have been diverted from monitoring Islamic militants to dissident republicans.

In response to the article, a spokeman for the Ministry of Defence said security in Northern Ireland "is a matter for the PSNI".

"Just as in the rest of the UK, the Armed Forces provide a range of services to the police and we do not discuss operational nor tactical matters," he said.

Dissident republicans have been blamed for a number of car bomb explosions and hoax bomb alerts in recent months.

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