Czech special operations unit to take part in "Enduring Freedom" campaign

Special operations unit, photo:

Although the government was prepared to put a limit on any new Czech military missions abroad as a result of the recent floods significantly burdening the state budget, a new military unit is now expected to be deployed in Afghanistan in February next year.

On Thursday, Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik announced he had received requests for troops in Afghanistan during his recent meetings with US military leaders in Washington. The Czech Republic has been asked to dispatch an elite unit of about 120 soldiers for an unspecified mission in Afghanistan. Starting in February 2003, the mission is expected to last around four months. Although Mr Tvrdik gave few details on the plan, he said the troops would come from the army's "immediate reaction force" headquartered in Prostejov.

"This will be a special operations unit working in a completely different regime than normal army units. Their task will be to search for terrorist groups, weapons and ammunition stores, either alone or in cooperation with other NATO units to eliminate or capture those terrorist units."

With the exception of the Communist Party, which says the country can't afford any new foreign missions, all parties in the Czech Parliament are expected to approve the deployment of the unit, which would work under US command as part of the Operation Enduring Freedom campaign against terrorism. Defence minister Jaroslav Tvrdik expects to finance the operation by calling back most members of the Czech anti-chemical unit, currently stationed in Kuwait, by the beginning of next year instead of in May 2003 as initially planned.

"Following an agreement with the international command of the Enduring Freedom operation in Tampa, Florida, as of January 1st, 2003, the regime of the Kuwait unit will change. All heavy equipment and 1/3 of the soldiers, that is around 70 men, will stay in Kuwait, but the rest of the unit will be on standby in the Czech Republic and ready for deployment within 2-4 days."

As part of the US-led war on terror, a Czech army field hospital unit has been stationed in Afghanistan for several months. At the beginning of October, 140 military medical personnel are going to replace their colleagues who have served in Afghanistan since April.