In a compelling new book, ”MRF Shadow Troop” a former member of the Military Reaction Force reveals that the army black operations and assassination squad was ordered to kill the IRA's top players.
Using the pen name Simon Cursey, the author, who was a member of the MRF from 1972 to 1974, exposes the chilling extent of the undercover unit's activities.
Cursey says; “When we came across an important player, we lifted him and brought him in for interrogation. We weren’t looking for confessions, but information. Call it torture if you wish, we didn’t care then and I don’t care now. These were brutal killers and we had no time to waste – lives depended on us
“We were told to enter the room, break one of the suspects’ arms and then grab the other one. With that kind of shock treatment, prisoners soon begin to talk. Our section lifted ten or 15 men, dealt with them and dropped them off on the roadside.“ (If not killed they often had broken arms and legs.) Cursey says “We never discussed these incidents and nobody asked us.”
“Ours was a special department born in late 1971 in the early part of the Troubles. Prior to Bloody Sunday on January 30, 1972, Northern Ireland was close to civil war and the IRA seemed beyond control," Cursey writes, according to the Daily Mail.
"The regular Army didn’t have the right weapons, vehicles or training. Above all, they were hamstrung by the law. They couldn’t use the tactics employed by the IRA, and the IRA knew it.
"This was no time for gentlemanly conduct. Someone very high up decided an undercover unit was needed to seek out the enemy and confront them head-on. That unit was the MRF, or Military Reaction Force, a group of approximately 30 men and a few women.
"I was recruited in March 1972 from the Army, and we were trained to spy on and hunt down ‘hard-core’ killers, which Belfast was crawling with at the time. The aim was to beat them at their own game, striking fear into their hearts with clinical brutality. We were a deadly ghost squad, a nightmare rumor . . . a Shadow Troop."
Cursey describes how members of the unit had to be 'demilitarized,' and goes on to reveal how walls of the briefing room were covered with mug shots of wanted 'players' like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.
"The walls of the briefing room in our secret base in the heart of the Palace Barracks on the outskirts of Belfast were plastered with hundreds of mug shots of nasty-looking people including the big ‘players’ like Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Martin Meehan, Brendan ‘Darkie’ Hughes, the Price sisters and James Bryson, who were some of the most wanted people at that time," he writes.
Cursey says that after seven people were killed in the Aldershot bombing of February 1972, they were told to adopt a "more aggressive role."
"During briefings phrases such as ‘deal with’ and ‘eliminate’ were used. We were given dossiers on the most dangerous people – and yes, we had a ‘shoot on sight’ list, including Gerry Adams among many others. Originally our rules had been to shoot at anyone carrying a weapon. Now we targeted groups manning barricades or vigilantes patrolling late at night. The terrorists had to be stopped."
Cursey writes, "If we were caught, we knew that the Government would deny all knowledge of us. It was also made clear that if we were ever caught by a terrorist group, our life expectancy would be minutes. Our briefing was simple: ‘If you are cornered, empty your magazines on them first. Don’t let them get hold of your ammo and if possible try to destroy your weapon.’ We were told these new intensified operations had Westminster backing as part of a deeper political game aimed at forcing the terrorists to negotiate."
Cursey claims the information the task force gained compromised terrorist attacks and "saved hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent lives."
He says that after recovering from a bullet wound in 1974, he was sent back to his original unit. Cursey says he had trouble returning to a regimented life after two years undercover and left the army.
Although he suffered from post-traumatic stress after he went back to life as a civilian, Cursey says he has no regrets.
"...if I was approached and asked to go back and do it all again, I would be tempted. We were effectively licensed to kill terrorists for that short time. We were a totally new concept, a prototype unit. We developed techniques which were, over the years, fine-tuned and streamlined, and improved with the help of modern technology.