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Alberta NATO exercise focuses on attacks using biological, chemical weapons

FILE: Soldiers wearing gas masks.
FILE: Soldiers wearing gas masks. AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

The possibility of a terrorist attack using biological or chemical weapons makes the focus of a 15-day NATO training exercise at Canada’s largest training base even more important, says a counterterrorism expert.

Even though the majority of recent attacks have involved explosives or armed gunmen, that doesn’t mean a more serious threat isn’t out there, says Chris Corry with Defence Research and Development Canada.

“Although people think it’s a low-risk threat, it’s a high consequence threat,” the former Canadian infantry officer said Tuesday.

Exercise Precise Response 2016 at Canadian Forces Base Suffield in southeastern Alberta isn’t about high-tech military equipment or heavily armed soldiers. It is focusing on chemical, biological, radiological and explosive material.

More than 350 chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialists from 10 NATO countries — including Canada, the United States, Britain, France and Germany — are testing their skills in a realistic environment. Nearly all of the participants are wearing some sort of biohazard suit.

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During three simultaneous exercises set in the imaginary country of Canuckistan, teams investigate reports of terrorist activity and follow clues to chemical weapons factories and eventually bring back material to mobile labs to check its content.

Capt. Nesse Timmers of the Netherlands is commanding one of the exercises. He said a team approach is important in the battle against terrorism so as to be ready for when the “real deal” comes along.

“This will be the future of all armies,” Timmers said. "It's not one army that will win the war. It's co-operation between all armies."

Canadian Warrant Officer Stephan Allen said the Suffield exercise is a chance to practise and apply all the specialized skills that the countries have.

“Outside of Canada, we’re also looking at our linkages to NATO, so if we have a joint task force going anywhere we can apply some specialists and operators to help out a larger operation,” said Allen.

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But he doesn’t believe the current world climate is making a difference on the approach the international soldiers are taking.

“It’s one of the many threats that’s always out there. It’s not really super high. I don’t see it tied to the last few months or anything like that,” Allen said.

“I don’t think it’s any real change from what it’s been for many, many years.”