- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

PRAGUE The United Nations' failure to approve an attack on Iraq has sidelined two U.S. allies from "new Europe," meaning that some of the world's best chemical-detection units will not be deployed with the frontline troops.
In recent weeks, 460 specially trained troops from the Czech Republic and Slovakia have been based at Camp Doha in Kuwait, preparing to accompany U.S. troops into Iraq.
The Czechs and Slovaks' nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) units offer decades of accumulated expertise and highly sensitive equipment that can detect trace amounts of deadly agents.
They are deft at disinfecting; they can decontaminate 1,000 people and 300 vehicles per hour.
They can also provide medical care.
The White House considered the Czechs and Slovaks to be on board for the campaign. But parliamentary mandates of the troops' nations prohibit them from crossing into Iraq as part of a military offensive not explicitly sanctioned by the United Nations.
The Czechs may support the U.S. venture but they cannot join the offensive, said Tomas Klvana, spokesman for President Vaclav Klaus.
"The [Czech] government is not part of the coalition," Mr. Klvana said. "It's not part of the forces that attacked Iraq last night. But the forces there are mandated to take part in any humanitarian operation."
U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Craig Stapleton said that despite being locked out of frontline action, the Czech and Slovak units could play an important role.
"The newest [parliamentary] resolution allows that unit to protect Turkey, to protect Israel and to move into battle if weapons of mass destruction are used," Mr. Stapleton said.
They can be dispatched throughout the region including into Iraq to provide medical aid and clean up the aftermath of a chemical or biological attack.
Otherwise they will be relegated to monitoring the air, water and ground in Kuwait.
The United States' NBC units have made major advancements since the Persian Gulf war of 1991. Much of it has been gleaned from Czech and Slovak expertise honed on the Soviet side of the arms race during the Cold War.
Twelve years ago NBC units from then-Czechoslovakia detected low levels of nerve toxins in the air but U.S. commanders largely ignored their alerts.
It took five years but it was these measurements that ultimately convinced the Pentagon that thousands of soldiers were in ill health as a result of the war, said Austin Camacho, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Deployment Health Office.
"We discovered later that some warheads contained sarin and we realized that some servicemen may have been exposed to it," Mr. Camacho said. "It didn't cause an immediate health reaction, but it could pose a long-term problem."
When alerted to the Czech detections of both sarin and mustard gas, U.S. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf dispatched American detection units that were unable to verify the results.
In an e-mailed response to questions, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Donald Sewell said, "We didn't have the biological and chemical detection equipment that we have today. We are able to field a number of new items … that give us a greatly enhanced capability over what we had in 1990-91."

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