Imagine an urban counterinsurgency in a sectarian setting.  Probably your bottom pick of conflict, as the Iraq adventure continues to show.

Now imagine an army on the ropes and devoid of actionable intelligence. The ancient Sun Tzu might have been the first to wed intel and victory, but his concept still rang true in Northern Ireland during the Troubles (1968-1998).

But it’s hard to obtain intel in a regular conflict, never mind in a religiously divided battlefield where even your local allies may have a different agenda.

Hard, yes, but not impossible.

To gain information on the IRA, the British formed a unit with an operational flexibility that borderlined the illegal. The Military Reaction Force (MRF) did covert ops in civvies, double agents, front companies, torture, and even “legalized” killings.

This wasn’t your regular SOF unit.

The MRF was a comet:  It passed and went with a blazing trail in scant two years (1971-1973).  During its brief life, its operators gained both respect and notoriety.

But it was too irregular, too flexible—indeed, too unmanageable.  And after an operation went south, it was disbanded in 1973.  The intelligence void its dissolution created was filled by the famous 14 Intelligence Company, a more professional and supervised unit.