Czech contingent prepares to head multinational battlegroup in Slovakia

43rd Airborne Battalion in Chrudim

A Czech Army contingent headed for Slovakia on Monday where they will lead a multi-national battlegroup of alliance forces bolstering NATO’s Eastern Flank. The Czech troops will be joined by air and ground forces from five other allied states and tasked with protecting the border with Ukraine.    

Members of the 43rd Airborne Battalion based in Chrudim set off for a military base in central Slovakia on Monday where they will be teaming up with troops from Germany, the US, Poland, Slovenia and the Netherlands to form a 2,000 strong “enhanced vigilance activity” battlegroup. The multinational force is one of several being deployed along NATO’s Eastern Flank in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Lieutenant Colonel Ivo Zelinka, who is to head the mixed infantry battalion, spoke briefly to Czech Television ahead of their departure.

“The main aim of the mission is detrimental, but in the event of a direct threat it could involve defending the Slovak border. We will be operating 24/7 from base, but will be able to relocate anywhere in Slovakia, as needed.”

Photo: Czech Army

The 2,100 strong contingent will include 700 soldiers from Germany, 400 from the US, 200 from the Netherlands, 100 each from Poland and Slovenia and at least 400 from the Czech Republic. The battlegroup will operate the Patriot air defense system and possibly also the Sentinel radar system.

The decision to place it under Czech command was made at the request of the Slovak government – in order to facilitate acceptance of the multinational contingent among Slovaks. Czech soldiers are accepted in Slovakia without a problem due to the fact that the two nations were part of one federation – Czechoslovakia - for over 70 years and even now have a treaty on joint airspace defense. The Czech army has moreover performed well in other international missions and is now actively involved in patrolling the Baltics’ airspace. The Czech minister of defense, Jana Černochová, said the Czech military welcomed the opportunity to lead.

43rd Airborne Battalion in Chrudim | Photo: Czech Army

“The lead role will be a big challenge for the army and it is also a huge honour. I am very glad that Slovakia asked for us to be in charge and since the operation is taking place on their territory it had a big say in the matter. Any foreign mission is a valuable experience for our troops and the added responsibility of being in charge of a multinational battalion is an added bonus. It is a chance to grow – and that is how our soldiers perceive it as well.”

The Czech Parliament approved a mandate for up to 650 troops to join NATO’s Eastern Flank mission wherever necessary. Their mandate is valid until June 30, 2023, and the cost is estimated at around 540 million Czech crowns.

The Czech contingent should have at least 400 soldiers, a military police team and logistics support units. Their mandate also includes setting up and operating a humanitarian camp for up to 400 Ukrainian refugees near Liptovský Mikuláš in the Žilina region.