Sat, Mar 19, 2011 - Page 3 News List

JAPAN DISASTER: Army cuts could weaken disaster response: critics

By Hsu Hsiao-hsuan and Chen Hui-ping  /  Staff Reporters

The Ministry of National Defense’s reported move to cut 2 percent of the army’s chemical unit as part of its Elite Forces Plan was met with opposition and questions in light of the disasters that have befallen Japan.

The Elite Forces Plan is part of the ministry’s preparations to phase out compulsory military service and replace it with a voluntary program.

A report from the Control Yuan on Thursday suggested that the ministry plans to reduce the total number of active forces from 275,000 to 215,000, which would lower the relative proportion of personnel and equipment available for disaster relief and prevention.

Saying that disaster relief and prevention are already the primary missions for the army, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Justin Chou (周守訓) said the ministry should not disband necessary units just for the sake of disarmament.

According to anonymous sources, each of the three army groups nationwide has chemical units. Each unit has a reconnaissance battalion, a smoke battalion and an aid-deployment battalion.

To support the 7 million Taiwanese in the north of the country, the northern army group has appointed four companies to each battalion. Meanwhile, the central army group only has three companies to a battalion, while the southern army group only has one company assigned to each battalion.

Including those stationed on the nation’s outlying islands, the total number of soldiers in chemical units is about 2,000.

However, the ministry’s disarmament project suggests that all three aid-deployment battalions should be disbanded.

According to a decommissioned corporal, who declined to be named: “The chemical unit was reinforced after the SARS scare [in 2003], when it was discovered the nation had insufficient manpower. It’s ironic that five years later it’s being disbanded.”

The chemical unit the key line of defense against pandemics or epidemics, chemical factory fires and even the nuclear crisis in Japan, the decommissioned corporal said.

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