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Olympic contingency planning uses NATO expertise

Article, 16 November 2007
Domestic Security, International Institutions
This article details the co-operation between Czech and Slovak weapons of mass destruction experts and Greek planners for the Athens Olympics.

Greece faces the challenging task of building up a comprehensive security umbrella in preparation for the 2004 summer Olympic Games, which are scheduled to take place between 13-29 August in Athens.

Since the 1972 summer Games held in Munich, which became infamous after members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) murdered 11 Israeli athletes, the Olympics have entailed massive security preparations.

Furthermore, following a series of attacks launched by the Al-Qaeda Islamic terrorist network on 11 September 2001, and subsequent attacks in Turkey, Morocco and Madrid, security preparations for the Athens Olympics, as well as other mass events, have grown to resemble large-scale military mobilisations.

The Greek government has allocated an initial sum of US$800 million to cover the costs of security for the Games, which will include the deployment of over 50,000 military, police and other security agency personnel. In recognition of the unique threat, NATO’s North Atlantic Council unanimously agreed on 17 March to a Greek request to provide security assistance. The Military Committee in Brussels, together with the Hellenic General Staff, have been working closely to work out the details of the assistance to be provided.

NATO is likely to deploy E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft; intensified naval patrols; intelligence support; assistance in the civil emergency planning; and specialised capabilities such as response to a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) attack.

The governments of France, Germany, Israel, Russia, Spain, the UK and the US have been providing Greece with intelligence and other assistance. The US, for example, has pledged to deploy ships from the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet for the duration of the games, including an aircraft carrier, a helicopter carrier and a hospital ship in the Aegean Sea.

The Greek government has been actively pursuing efforts to counter any possible terrorist attack involving the use of CBRN weapons after evidence emerged that Al-Qaeda was planning an attack in Jordan using chemical weapons (see RJHM June 2004, p2).

In an effort to better prepare for such attacks, the Greek government requested particular assistance from the Czech Republic, which has chosen to specialise in countering CBRN threats since the Prague NATO summit in November 2002. CBRN specialists from the Czech Army have amassed a great deal of experience in the area of defending against such attacks, for example by deploying members of the 31st Chemical Defence Brigade to Kuwait in July 2002 in preparation for Operation ‘Iraqi Freedom’.

NATO CBRN training finds a home

In recognition of its army’s specialist skills, the Czech Republic was selected in December 2003 as the home for NATO’s new international CBRN defence battalion, based in the northern Bohemian town of Liberec. The backbone of the battalion consists of 160 Czech Army CBRN defence specialists; other personnel come from Belgium; Canada; Hungary; Italy; Norway; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Turkey; the UK; and the US.

The Czech Republic has pledged two CBRN defence platoons for NATO’s Rapid Response Force, and in total as allocated 267 specialists to staff high, middle, and lower command levels as well as logistics support personnel for the new international battalion. "The battalion entered the initial stages of being operationally capable on 1 December 2003 and embarked upon a seven-month training period, and in July 2004 will be capable of deploying anywhere in the world between five and 30 days," says Major Vratislav Osvald, commander of the unit.

Although member countries have sent command and liaison personnel to Liberec, the rank-and-file will be based with their units in their respective countries, although the battalion is organised to deploy as a single unit in the event of a crisis.

Greece requested in March 2004 that the Czech Army deploy members of the Liberec-based 31st Chemical Defense Brigade to provide support for the Athens Olympics. "For us it’s a great honour to be able to participate in providing security for the Olympic Games," says Colonel Jiri Gajdos, commander of the brigade. Apart from operations in the Persian Gulf, the unit also provided personnel during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank conference held in Prague in 2000, as well as during the 2002 NATO summit held in the same city. Brigade members have also trained extensively with other NATO CBRN defence specialists during exercises in mid-2002 held in Turkey.

While Greece did not specify the exact number of personnel required, Col Gajdos says that according to his estimates, the Czech Army would have to deploy 150-160 CBRN specialists to the Athens Olympics. "That would allow us enough personnel to provide three fully equipped teams that could be rotated over the duration of the Games," he adds.

Col Gajdos says that unit members would exchange their military uniforms for civilian dress and be issued either civilian vehicles or repaint their existing military vehicles in white, in order to be more inconspicuous during the event.

The unit would operate in small detection teams that would monitor the air for traces of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and could also deploy decontamination and emergency medical response teams in the event that such materials were used by terrorists during the Games. The governments of the Czech Republic and Greece are in negotiations at NATO headquarters in Brussels in order to determine whether the alliance would cover the costs of an eventual Czech Army deployment as part of a broader NATO-led mission.

General Pavel Stefka, chief of general staff of the Czech Army, says that if an agreement is not reached at Brussels, the Czech Republic and Greece could negotiate a bilateral agreement on deploying the personnel. Gen Stefka adds that if given approval, the Czech Army CBRN specialists could be deployed in Greece for up to three months and could leave the Czech Republic as early as mid-June. Due to the obvious sensitivity of the issue, however, both sides are reluctant to provide details of planned security precautions during the Olympic Games.

In addition to requesting Czech Army participation, Greece also reached an agreement with the Czech government to allow CBRN defence specialists from the Greek armed forces to train in the Czech Republic at the Kamenna Chaloupka CBRN training facility, which is located near the military academy in Vyskov. This facility, which became operational on 1 April 2004, is expected to be used to train CBRN specialists from other NATO member countries, as well as other states whose governments want to improve their ability to cope with the spectre of a terrorist attack using CBRN weapons or other WMD.

Kamenna Chaloupka is one of two of training centres in NATO in which CBRN defiance and medical specialists can train in a fully contaminated environment exposed to chemical and biological agents. The other facility is located in the US. Apart from the Czech facility’s excellence, Greece chose Kamenna Chaloupka because it is less expensive and geographically closer, and so costs of transportation and other related logistics could be reduced.

The Greek ministry of defence absorbed all costs associated with training exercises, which included a Hellenic Air Force Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules transport aircraft to deliver personnel and equipment. The cost of the actual training at Kamenna Chaloupka was reported at US$1 million.

The Czech Army has completed the construction of a new special training building at the facility that allows CBRN defence personnel to train in full nuclear, biological and chemical warfare suits in a contaminated environment. The floor in the building, which measures over 100m2 is specially designed to ventilate and extract any traces of chemical and biological materials from the air once a training session is completed, in order to minimise the risk of a leak to the outside environment.

On 31 May, the Hellenic Army’s general staff despatched 24 CBRN defence and medical response specialists from the Greek army, air force and navy to train at Kamenna Chaloupka. Following a week-long intensive training course involving detection work and rescuing simulated victims contaminated by sarin and yperit gases, a second 24-member contingent were sent to the facility on 7 June.

Gen Stefka says that only after the Greek CBRN detection and medical response specialists train in a fully contaminated environment will their unit commanders be able to determine how rapidly and effectively their personnel will be able to respond to a terrorist attack using CBRN WMD. "Training in simulated conditions is one thing, however, operating in a fully contaminated environment where the personnel must fully trust their protective suits and other specialised equipment is another," he says.

Although sarin and yperit were used, the agents were released in controlled quantities for detection purposes only in order to prevent the possibility of the substances from contaminating the surrounding area outside the training building.

Speaking during the training session in Prague, Lieutenant Colonel Nasos Konstantinov, commander of the Greek armed forces’ CBRN and medical response unit, commented: "The intensive course has allowed us to be better prepared for providing a much higher standard of protection against the eventual use of WMD during the Olympic Games in Athens."

Jiri Kominek is the Prague-based correspondent for Jane's Information Group in the Czech Republic and Slovakia

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