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New NATO Chem/Bio Battalion Starts Operations

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Dec. 1, 2003 – A new multinational battalion designed to defend against and respond to attacks by weapons of mass destruction is now operational, NATO officials announced here today.

Various NATO countries will supply specific capabilities to the battalion, which will operate in six-month rotations. The Czech Republic will lead the unit's first six-month rotation, with Germany scheduled to lead the second. The United States is supporting the battalion's deployable nuclear, biological and chemical analytical laboratory in the first rotation, NATO officials said. For the second rotation, the United States will support the biological laboratory and sampling team.

The unit called the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense battalion is now at what officials called the "initial operational capability" level. Full capability is expected in July 2004, following six months of deployable laboratory training and field and command- post exercises, officials said.

Each rotation will train similarly to attain full capability, with NATO's Allied Command Operations handling certification. Officials said about 500 people compose the first rotation, with that number expected to grow to about 700 for the second rotation.

The battalion's capabilities fall into five categories: nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance operations; identification of NBC substances; biological detection and monitoring operations; NBC assessments and advice for NATO commanders; and NBC decontamination operations.

"The future of NATO lies in its collective capabilities," said German air force Gen. Harald Kujat, chairman of NATO's military committee, citing the battalion as a prominent example. Fifteen countries are supporting the first two rotations.

Officials cautioned against weighing various nations' participation by comparing numbers. "What you've got here is often a lot of very rare and expensive assets," one official said, "so virtually everyone who is contributing here is contributing something which they don't have much of and NATO as a whole doesn't have enough of." He added that capabilities, rather than numbers of forces, are the critical element.

NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson called the battalion "a fast, flexible, deployable unit equipped to beat the threat."

"This new unit is a superb symbol of the transformed NATO," he said. "In the first two rotations of this battalion, we will see 15 NATO countries and two of the invited members working together to provide a high-tech multinational solution to today's threats."

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