Czech Gulf War veteran analyses Czech participation in war on Iraq

02-04-2003

Ever since the fall of the communist regime in 1989, the Czech Army has been quick to assist in international warfare and peace operations. Although not involved in direct combat, Czech soldiers have made quite a name for themselves thanks to their excellent field hospitals and anti-chemical warfare units. They have participated in the Gulf War, wars in the former Yugoslavia, the Enduring Freedom operation in Afghanistan and Kuwait, and the ongoing Iraqi Freedom operation. Dita Asiedu reports:

Iraq, photo: CTKIraq, photo: CTK Frantisek Janda is a Gulf War veteran, who served as part of the Czech-Slovak anti-chemical unit in Saudi Arabia:

"Unlike the British and US chemical warfare units, we were protecting the Arab troops who did not have a unit to protect themselves against biological or chemical attack. Despite them being Muslims and us Christians, they considered our work to be heroic and to this day, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have an unusually good relationship with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. I think that our unit's success triggered the Czech tradition of participating in international conflicts, as we saw in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia, Afghanistan, and now Kuwait and possibly Iraq."

Ever since the end of the Gulf War, Mr Janda has been following the developments in the Middle East with much interest. But while he believes that an attack on Iraq was necessary and inevitable, he has mixed feelings about its consequences:

"I have been monitoring the conflict with a degree of uneasiness. I am convinced that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein is willing to use them. He's used them once before, some twelve years ago to try out their effectiveness. At the time, five thousand people died and fifty thousand were injured. On the other hand, if he should turn to the use of weapons of mass destruction as a last resort, he would, in my mind lose the last thing he was left with, and that is a certain loyalty from the Arab world. That would be the definite end. The important question we have to ask ourselves is how dictators think and behave when they know the end of their regime is near. I fear that they would not shy away from using their highly destructive weapons."

While parliament is yet to make it's decision on the future of the 7th Czech field hospital, the Czech anti-chemical warfare unit's task is clear. According to Mr Janda, it is divided into two groups. One group will never leave Kuwait, and will offer its services should the country come under chemical or biological attack. The other would be responsible for decontamination work outside the Middle Eastern state. This means that it could end up not just in Iraq but also in Israel, Syria or any other country that is attacked:

"The United States, Great Britain and Australia are the only countries participating in direct combat. They have their own quite capable chemical units. But should there be a biological or chemical attack that the units cannot control themselves, we could be asked to assist. The Czech-Slovak unit's decontamination work is thirty times as fast as that of Great Britain and ten times more effective than that of the US, and that is why it is so unique and is in reserve."

02-04-2003