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Germany: Chemical Units Readied For Fight Against Terrorism

Germany is preparing to send troops trained to handle biological and chemical weapons to the Arabian Peninsula as part of the war against terrorism. However, the Defense Ministry in Berlin says no concrete decisions have been made on the actual deployment of the forces. The government is denying speculation in the German media that the preparations are connected with a possible attack on Iraq as the next step in the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

Munich, 11 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping says plans are being made for the possible deployment to the Arabian Peninsula of special troops trained in the handling of biological and chemical weapons.

Scharping says the move is in keeping with the German government's pledge to support the U.S. in its war against international terrorism.

In a statement this week, Scharping recalled that in November the government offered the United States 30 vehicles specially equipped as mobile laboratories for the detection of nuclear, biological, and chemical weaponry.

Scharping declined to say where the units might be sent, or when. However, he did confirm that a small group of experts in these weapons made a brief visit to Kuwait in December. No details from this trip have been made public.

German television is reporting that 50 German experts in detecting nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons will be sent to Kuwait in the next few days. But German Defense Ministry spokeswoman Karla Schmidt today called these reports "premature." She said planning by the German military is so advanced that a decision to deploy the troops can be made immediately if the need arises.

"Preparations are so advanced that a decision can be taken at any time. However, I want to stress that there is no concrete decision on when -- or even if -- they will be deployed."

In his statement, Scharping rejected speculation being made in the German media that the possible deployment of the special weapons units indicates a possible attack on Iraq as the next step in the war against terrorism. Iraq borders Kuwait.

Scharping said there are "no indications" of a forthcoming military strike against Iraq. He noted that, on the contrary, senior U.S. officials have indicated Iraq is not an imminent target. The defense minister cited an interview given by U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on 7 January, in which he discussed a number of possible scenarios for continuing the war on terrorism. He did not place Iraq in the top ranks.

The political opposition in Germany is complaining that Scharping did not first discuss plans for the possible deployment of the special troops with the parliamentary committee on the military. In response, Scharping said the government announced in November that it was making the specialists in nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons available to the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism.

He said nothing has changed since then and that current preparations are only to ensure the units will be available quickly if they are called upon. He said he will make a report to the parliamentary committee in a few days.

The German Defense Ministry has been criticized in the media for being slow in dispatching troops to the international peace force in Afghanistan. Parliament approved the deployment before Christmas, but the first members of an advance unit arrived in Kabul only this morning (11 January) as part of Berlin's first contribution to the British-led international security force.

Germany also has sent two warships and several armed launches to the Persian Gulf to help the U.S. patrol sea lanes, to prevent members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network from escaping to Somalia or other countries.