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Congress Told US Soldiers Ready to Deal with Chemical, Biological Treats - 2003-03-19

U.S. officials have told Congress that U.S. soldiers will be fully prepared for any chemical or biological threats they may face from the Iraqi military.

"Weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical, biological - in the possession of hostile states and terrorists, represent one of the greatest security challenges facing the United States," said Republican Congressman Jim Saxton of New Jersey who chairs the subcommittee concerned with chemical and biological weapons threats to the United States and to U.S. troops.

Officials from the defense department tried to assure anxious lawmakers that U.S. troops will be fully prepared for any chemical or biological threat they may face.

Dale Klein, assistant secretary for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense, says experts have been deployed with U.S. forces to minimize the consequences of any Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction.

"I can assure you that our war fighters are much better prepared to fight and win in a weapons of mass destruction environment than they were in 1991. If the leadership in Iraq miscalculates, and uses weapons of mass destruction, our war fighters are prepared to continue on their mission, and enforce the U.N. resolutions, and assure us that weapons of mass destruction will not be in Iraq under a future regime," Mr. Klein said.

"During the [1991] Gulf War, we had virtually no biological detection capability whatsoever, and we have made huge progress in biological detection areas. We have also learned our lessons from that Gulf War, we have also improved our chemical detection," said Brigadier General Stephen Reeves, the Joint Program executive officer of the U.S. Chemical and Biological Defense Program.

One of the tools General Reeves says is being used in the field right now is a new automatic chemical agent alarm. He says 20,000 are deployed with U.S. troops.

The defense officials also commented about news reports over the past year concerning defective chemical-biological garments for U.S. troops. General Reeves said these problems have been resolved, and in his words there are now "zero" defective suits in the U.S. military's inventory.