The German government has disclosed that the U.S. and some of its allies will conduct an exercise on the Arabian Peninsula next month involving troops specializing in handling nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
Munich, 25 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping says the month-long exercise is connected to the U.S. war against terrorism, but he gave few other details.
Scharping said Germany will contribute 250 soldiers trained in nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare. They include crews for around 20 of Germany's so-called "Fox" armored cars, which are specially equipped as mobile laboratories for the detection of these weapons.
The first of the German units left for the region earlier this week from the port of Cuxhaven, along with the "Fox" mobile laboratories.
Scharping declined to discuss how many U.S. forces will be involved in the exercise and which other countries will participate. Reports in Germany speculate that the Czech Republic will be among the participating nations, but there has been no official confirmation.
A Defense Ministry spokeswoman, Klara Schmidt, described the exercises as "training for a catastrophe." She says the goal of the maneuvers should not be misinterpreted.
"This exercise is meant as training for a situation where a catastrophe has occurred involving chemical or biological weapons or where a population could be threatened by such weapons. It should not be interpreted as preparation for a possible offensive against any country in the region."
Schmidt said the majority of German troops will return at the end of February or in early March. About 50 will remain in the region with the mobile laboratories. She declined to say how long they will be deployed there or whether U.S. troops also will be deployed with them.
For his part, Scharping said only that the exercise will take place on the Arabian Peninsula. But sources in the Defense Ministry tell the German media that the maneuvers will be held in Kuwait. A small team of German experts in nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons visited Kuwait in December.
Reports that the exercises will take place in Kuwait have revived speculation in the German media that an attack on Iraq might be imminent as the next target in the international war against terrorism.
But Scharping reminded reporters that a previous statement he had made, in which he said Germany has received "no indication" of a forthcoming military strike against Iraq, still holds good.
Germany also has sent a naval unit to the Arabian Peninsula to join U.S. naval forces patrolling sea lanes to prevent members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network from escaping to Yemen, Somalia, or other countries. A German frigate arrived in the north African country of Djibouti yesterday, and other vessels are expected to reach Djibouti on 27 January.