Fri, Jul 23, 2004 - Page 22 News List

US special forces to attend Games

AP , ATHENS, GREECE

Members of an elite Greek Navy unit conduct a security exercise near the Greek island of Hydra, southwest of Athens, on Wednesday. Teams of frogmen, helicopters and warships of the Greek Navy are preparing security for the Aug. 13-29 Olympics.

PHOTO: AP

Responding to a request from Greece, the US committed 400 American special forces soldiers to help protect the Olympic Games, a US counterterrorism official said Wednesday, as security costs for the games swelled to a record-breaking US$1.5 billion.

It was not yet decided where the US soldiers would be based: in Athens, on the island of Crete or on alert in Europe, where they are based in Germany. The US is in the process of discussing with the Greek government where the soldiers will be positioned, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The decision on where to send the troops is mostly up to the Greek government, but will be made jointly with Gen. James Jones, the top NATO commander who also is commander of US forces in Europe, the official said in Washington.

US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicated in Washington that any possible involvement of US troops would be under a NATO umbrella.

"The Greek government has made a request of NATO. NATO is evaluating that request," Myers said.

Greece's top law enforcement official, meanwhile, said foreign leaders and other dignitaries can use their own armed guards at the Aug. 13-29 games, but athletes will be under the exclusive protection of Greek forces.

International demands to boost Olympic security have pushed costs, already the highest in Olympic history, to at least US$1.5 billion -- 25 percent higher than previously estimated, Greek Deputy Finance Minister Petros Doukas said. These may include expanded roles for NATO anti-terrorism units and armed agents from the United States and other nations.

"There are new bills coming up," Doukas told AP, adding that Greece did not want to "risk the reaction" by denying foreign appeals for added security.

The US has led demands to expand anti-terrorism measures for the first summer Olympics since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Among the added costs, said Doukas, is more than US$2.4 million for a blimp outfitted with high-resolution cameras and chemical detection systems.

On the ground, authorities are struggling to overcome delays and financial disputes to close gaps in a new communications-surveillance network.

Greek officials also are seeking to find agreement on the politically sensitive issue of armed security contingents planned by the US, Israel and possibly other nations.

Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis insisted athletes will be under the exclusive protection of Greek forces. But he noted that foreign leaders and other dignitaries can use their own armed guards as part of an established "security protocol" that covers such visits.

Heads of state and other prominent figures, including former President George Bush, are expected in Athens and normally have a security entourage.

The issue facing Greek officials is how much extra foreign security to allow and how freely to let it operate. Greece would to bend laws prohibiting armed security beyond diplomatic protection.

Greek officials also worry foreign guards might overreact to such common occurrences as street protests, small firebombs planted by anarchists or motor scooters on sidewalks to avoid traffic.

Some concessions have apparently already been made.

Greek police sources told the AP earlier this month that armed US agents would watch over athletes during a pre-Olympic training camp on the island of Crete. The US plans to send nearly 200 personnel to Greece, including diplomatic security and FBI agents.

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