Ukrainian NBC experts partner with U.S.-led task force

15 Apr 2003 | Staff Sgt. Bill Lisbon and Sgt. Jacques-René Hébert

The final elements of an elite Ukrainian nuclear, biological and chemical unit arrived in Kuwait April 5, adding their expertise to a coalition poised to respond to chemical or biological attacks in the region.

Already with troops from Germany, Romania and the Czech and Slovak Republics, the U.S.-led Combined / Joint Task Force - Consequence Management welcomed the 19th Separate Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection Battalion to the team.

Though the battalion joins the task force as the war to liberate Iraq nears an end, the threat of terrorists using biological and chemical weapons in the region remains.

Although the government of the Ukraine, like Germany, has voiced opposition to the military actions against Iraq, they did vote on March 20 to send the battalion to support humanitarian efforts aiding civilian casualties in case of a chemical attack.

Just two days later, on March 22, an advance party of Ukrainian troops arrived in Kuwait.

The Ukrainian's capabilities lie in the reconnaissance and decontamination of NBC attack sites, as do the other task force partners. Yet the Ukrainians bring a few new skills to the table.

"They also have a robust capability to decontaminate roads, airfields and similar areas.  Additionally, they have a proven ability to decontaminate smaller items such as clothing and shoes," said Army Col. Thomas Collins, chief of staff for the task force.  

In order to perform to such missions, the Ukrainians have an arsenal of counter-NBC vehicles and equipment. When fully stocked, the unit claims to be able to purge chemical decontaminates from a few thousand vehicles, 9 kilometers of road and hundreds of uniforms.

The task force plans to test the Ukrainian's capabilities in an exercise late April, which will better determine how to use the new troops.

After the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, the entire Ukrainian military reorganized. Already having smaller NBC units spread throughout the country, the Ukraine consolidated efforts and formed three battalions trained and equipped for military operations as well as incidents involving bio and chemical terrorism.

"The Ukrainian government wishes to support and assist in the humanitarian efforts conducted by the coalition," said Ukrainian Army Maj. Smahlii Andrii, liaison officer for the battalion.

Some of the battalion members have experience from cleaning up contamination from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown, said Andrii. Other Ukrainian Army personnel have attended the U.S. Army Chemical School Captains' Career Course, and each of the Ukrainians in the battalion has received full NBC training in the Ukraine. 

"They are comprised of the best NBC experts in the Ukraine," Collins said.

The Ukrainians will be a part of the task force for at least six months, possibly longer if the threat of weapons of mass destruction remains, said Andrii.

Established in November 2001 primarily by Marines from the I Marine Expeditionary Force, the task force was created in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. While initially focused on responding to terrorist attacks using biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, the unit geared more to responding to the use of chemical munitions by Iraq against the people of Kuwait during the war.

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