Kuwait City (CNSNews.com) - When an Iraqi Silkworm missile slammed into the seawall of Kuwait's largest shopping center Saturday morning, fears of a chemical or biological attack quickly surfaced.
It was not American or British forces who responded to this attack on a civilian target, but the men of the 1st Czech and Slovak NBC Battalion.
Operating from a camp outside Kuwait City, these specialists in fighting nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) warfare were at the Souk Sharq Mall within 10 minutes of the attack, giving civil and military officials the reassurances they were hoping for.
"Fortunately, all information was negative" for chemical or biological agents, said Czech Army Maj. Ludek Lavicka. "Negative news is the best news for the Kuwait people."
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein says he has no such weapons in his arsenal, but Lavicka is unconvinced. "I think it is possible," said Lavicka. "After September 11, 2001, everything is possible."
With nearly 500 Czech and Slovak soldiers assigned to this battalion, their job is to provide non-stop monitoring and response to any chemical or biological attack, here or against coalition forces elsewhere in the theater. "We are proud to serve with our coalition allies," said Lavicka.
The Czech and Slovak 1st NBC Battalion, which includes veterans of the wars in the Balkans and the Golan Heights, has been on duty in Kuwait since last September. It arrived at its current location in the southern suburbs of Kuwait City in late February, with a fleet of dozens of monitoring and support vehicles, ready for war.
"The thinking of our soldiers is that Saddam should go away. For Saddam Hussein to go is the first step," said Lavicka, who added Saddam's Republican Guard and Baath Party guerillas also pose significant risks to Iraq and the region.
Motivated by Freedom
Having lived under tyranny before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lavicka said he and his troops are motivated in part by their experiences under Soviet domination.
"We have freedom for 13 years after communism, and now we want to keep a quiet life of freedom," said Lavicka.
While their role in the war to oust Saddam from power may go largely unnoticed, Lavicka said it is valuable, not only for coalition forces and local Kuwaitis, but also for Czechs and Slovaks back home.
"The Czech people have a fear of NBC weapons too," said Lavicka. "Not from Saddam only, but all dictators."
Lavicka said he and his soldiers are "happy to see" the backing they've received since deploying to the Middle East. "We get many e-mails from the people in the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic," said Lavicka. "There is very much support for our work in Kuwait."
These troops are not deployed in forward combat areas, but given the nature of modern warfare and the risks of going to war against the Iraqi regime, Lavicka said it makes little difference to him.
"In this type of war, there is no difference between the front lines and this place. NBC weapons don't know areas," said Lavicka. "All is a battlefield."