Germany has sent further soldiers to Kuwait to protect American and Kuwaiti installations from chemical and biological attacks. The government has stressed that they will have nothing to do with the ongoing war in Iraq.
German soldiers head to Kuwait to reinforce the NBC battalion.
About 110 German soldiers, among them four women, trained in detecting NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) weapons got their marching orders from the German Defense Minister on Friday.
Together with paramedics and communications experts, they left the Höxter base in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and boarded a plane in Cologne bound for the Gulf emirate of Kuwait. There they are to strengthen a German NBC Battalion of 90 soldiers manning six Fox armored reconnaissance vehicles (photo) equipped to detect nuclear, biological and chemical contamination.
Fox Armored vehicle
The 90-strong German unit was deployed in Kuwait last year together with American and Czech soldiers as part of the anti-terror operation, "Enduring Freedom", the U.S.-led fight against al Qaeda. Stationed in the Kuwaiti base of Doha, the multinational contingent is responsible for providing protection to American and Kuwaiti installations against attacks with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Additional soldiers needed to reinforce contingent
German Defense Minster Peter Struck said on Thursday that the move was made to plug "a gap" in the multinational contingent with the withdrawal of several American soldiers now engaged in the military campaign against Iraq.
German Defense Minister Peter Struck
Struck also said that Czech soldiers could also eventually pull out of the contingent. He said the additional soldiers were required to strengthen the self-defense capacity of the contingent.
Schröder says troops not involved in war
The issue of sending German soldiers to Kuwait at a time when a U.S.-led war against neighboring Iraq is in full swing, remains a sensitive one in Germany.
Chancellor Schröder, who has been a consistent opponent of any kind of U.S.-led military strike against Iraq, has already run into opposition for providing military help to the Americans in the form of flyover rights and transit rights to U.S. forces and allowing German troops on NATO AWACS flights in Turkey.
In regards to the present matter of sending German soldiers to Kuwait, however, Schröder has assured that the soldiers will not be deployed in Iraq. A government spokesman, Thomas Steg, said on Friday, that the soldiers had "no function as far as the Iraq war goes."
Soldiers face real danger in Kuwait
But despite government assurances, there is little doubt that the German soldiers face a dangerous assignment in Kuwait.
That fact was underscored on Thursday, the first day of the U.S.-led military strikes against Iraq, when Iraqi troops fired SCUD missiles into the Kuwaiti desert and prompted coalition troops to don gas masks and protective gear in case the missiles were armed with chemical or biological weapons.
But Lieutenant Colonel Conrad Flachsbarth said German soldiers were well-prepared for the fact that they are stationed within range of Iraqi rockets.
"One is aware that there is a specific threat. And so the normal drills take note of that," he said.
Germany's army, the Bundeswehr, has been participating in "Operation Enduring Freedom" since November 2001. Last December, the German parliament extended its mandate by a year.
A total of 1,000 German soldiers are involved in the operation. That includes four ships of the German Navy that monitors marine traffic at the Horn of Africa and 140 Naval aircraft stationed in the Kenyan port of Mombassa.
Troops well-prepared for chemical attacks
Several soldiers from the 110-strong team being sent to Kuwait, are already familiar with Camp Doha and conditions in Kuwait because the NBC battalion has a regular exchange of soldiers and other personnel. The new team will now stay in Kuwait until July, before they are replaced by another NBC defense battalion from another base in Germany.
One of the soldiers belonging to the German unit told DW-RADIO that he was well-equipped for any attack.
"I’m prepared in the sense that I was already planned in the contingent last year, which was the first contingent beginning of last year," he said. "And we’ve now intensified the training that we received there, which means we’ve improved our NBC capabilities and that’s why I think we’re well-prepared."