Czech cabinet approves sending troops to Afghanistan
Czech government has unanimously approved the deployment of Czech peace-keeping and humanitarian missions in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Milos Zeman said his country had offered the U.S.-led operation an anti-chemical unit, a field hospital and as many as 150 soldiers. More from Lucie Mouckova:
The government passed two resolutions in a late-night cabinet session on Wednesday. The first empowers the defence and foreign ministers to hold talks on the Czech participation in the military operation in Afghanistan, and the second concerns Czech participation in peace -keeping and humanitarian missions to Afghanistan. I asked Jiri Kominek, the Prague correspondent of the leading defence magazine Jane's Defence Weekly, what the Czech forces would most likely be responsible for.
"The chemical unit may just be able to secure, make sure that the Taliban forces don´t use any chemical or biological weapons, to warn allied units that such materials have been engaged."
It was back in November that the U.S. ambassador Craig Stapleton asked the Czech government to send its anti-chemical unit to Afghanistan. The unit has already proved itself during the Gulf War. In 1999, immediately after the Czech Republic' s accession to NATO, the anti-chemical unit was chosen to serve as a NATO rapid reaction force. The Czech anti-chemical unit is very highly respected, but is the decision to send troops to Afghanistan merely a political gesture? Jiri Kominek again:
"Well, it could be, I don´t know. The Czech Republic´s part of NATO. And it´s Czech Republic´s responsibility to participate, but if you look at the other end of things there´s a general election coming up so the government is doing everything again to make it so visible."
I´m asking because I´d like to know whether the Czech soldiers can be really helpful in Afghanistan?
"They could be, if chemical or biological weapons were used. They could be of assistance, because it´s considered to be one of the best units of its type in the world. So it should chemical agents, biological agents be used, then it could be of tremendous assistance."
It remains unclear when the Czech troops will be sent to Afghanistan, but the daily Pravo reported today that they'd be staying there for about 3 months. The deployment will be on the agenda of the sessions of both houses of Czech parliament next Wednesday. Their consent is required if the deployment of Czech troops abroad exceeds 60 days.