- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

PRAGUE — NATO is creating a special rapid-reaction brigade in response to fears that its military units as well as civilians could be attacked by terrorists with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

At least 13 member nations, including the United States, have enrolled in the battalion, which is expected to be operational this summer.

“The battalion can be deployed individually or together with other units,” said Petr Pavel, the Czech Republic’s deputy commander of joint forces.

“Possible operational scenarios include threat or real use of [weapons of mass destruction] against military or civil objectives, industry accidents of great scale, outflows of dangerous materials caused by natural catastrophes, etcetera,” he said.

The Czech army, renowned for expertise in weapons of mass destruction, is to take the lead in training the battalion.

The U.S. military will be committing a biology lab, a team that will collect air and ground samples, and a decontamination team that will be able to cleanse people, rooms and vehicles, Czech officials said.

The unit, known as the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Battalion (CBRN), was formed in December.

The battalion will be able to rapidly deploy mobile analysis labs that can work in contaminated areas, operate a specialized infection hospital that would carry stocks of vaccines against biological weapons for deployed forces, do reconnaissance and risk assessments, and perform light and heavy decontamination of people and vehicles.

It will enable other NATO troops to carry out missions that otherwise would be threatened by a nuclear, biological or chemical attack.

The battalion will operate both independently and as part of the new NATO Response Force, a rapid deployment force of up to 21,000 troops, which began training in October but won’t be fully operational for three years.

Once a nation’s CBRN troops have gone through the training, they will be on call from their home country, on a rotational basis, by NATO command for quick deployment abroad.

They also will be able to aid their civilian emergency crews in case of a terrorist attack at home, said Robert Pszczel, a NATO spokesman in Belgium.

Military units may aid civilian populations in the event of a terrorist attack, but ultimately it’s the local authorities and police, fire and ambulance services that will be on the front lines of such an attack, said Gerald Epstein, a homeland security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“New York City is as prepared as anyone is to handle an attack with weapons of mass destruction,” Mr. Epstein said, “but many other cities are considerably further behind.”

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