US guards with arms

Despite official denials, teams of armed anti-terrorist units and athletes’ escorts are set to arrive in Greece by early next month. A decision taken on Thursday by the North Atlantic Council to approve Greece’s request for supplementary aid for the security of the Athens Olympics. This paves the way for the arrival of a special US anti-terrorist unit, composed of 300 to 500 armed men and women, Kathimerini’s Giorgios Malouchos reports. According to sources, this unit will likely be stationed at Elefsina military airport, west of Athens, and will operate under NATO command. The Alliance’s Military Committee is studying the technical and operational details of the mission. The government’s official position remains that no foreign agents or forces will carry guns during the Games, which will take place between August 13-29. Yesterday, a «senior Greek security official» told The Associated Press that at least 45 US agents will accompany the US track-and-field team to a training camp in Crete in early August. «About 24 of them will have a permit by Greek authorities to carry weapons,» said the source, who requested anonymity. The US track-and-field team contains some 200 athletes plus their trainers. Also training on Crete will be the US women’s soccer team, one of the competition’s favorites. In Athens, the US team will be accompanied by at least 120 agents from the State Department’s diplomatic security office and 30 FBI agents, The AP was told. Another, non-armed, NATO force awaited in Greece by end-July is part of a Czech battalion specializing in dealing with nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical threats. The force, which includes 126 members and 30 vehicles, will be stationed at the Army Academy in Halkida and will intervene only in case of a major attack with over 500 victims, acting as a backup to a 217-member Greek unit, trained in the Czech Republic. Having been chosen to host the first post-9/11 Summer Games, Greece is spending a record sum, over 1 billion euros, on security measures. Its acquired knowhow will be put to use in other international tournaments, such as the 2006 World Soccer Cup, to be staged in Germany. Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis and German Interior Minister Otto Schilly met yesterday in Berlin to discuss cooperation for that event as well as Athens’s current preparations.