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The Ronin

Mar 24, 2017
By Lieutenant Colonel Md Zakaria Hossain, psc, G, Arty

"If we don’t stem the proliferation of the world’s deadliest weapons, no democracy can feel secure ..........., One of our most urgent priorities must be attacking the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, whether they are nuclear, chemical or biological".

President Clinton, 1993.


Over last three decades or so, Bangladesh Army through maintaining its chain of command, vigorous training and practicing professionalism has now reached to a standard where it can claim one of the finest Army of the world. Participation in UN mission by Bangladesh Army has added an invaluable recognition all over the world as well. Thereby, expectation from Army by the Nation has increased a lot than before. Undoubtedly Bangladesh Army is now well prepared to respond to disasters and considered as one of the main principal responders in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Army was called upon to help the civil administration all over the country to mitigate/ minimize the effects of all the disasters occurred in the past. The worthiness of Bangladesh Army was proved through its employment during flood disaster in 1988, Sedor in 2007, Ayla in 2009, Rana plaza tragedy in 2013, etc. But now, question is that whether Bangladesh Army is prepared to respond to all types of disasters or not? Answer might be different if any chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) disaster occurs anywhere in Bangladesh and goes beyond the capability of civil administration. Then, what to do about it? Is it the time now to think on it or still scope is there to think in future?

In this paper an overview of CBRN matters has been discussed to find out the threat from it in perspective of Bangladesh at present while the requirement of training on CBRN for Bangladesh army is also highlighted.

Overview of CBRN Weapons and CBRN Defence

CBRN. Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear incident or accident or disaster and to fight or defence against it is widely known as CBRN. It is now obvious when someone pronounces CBRN, automatically it comes in mind that some sort of protection to an individual or group of individuals are required in a Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear ( CBRN) environment. This CBRN is also known as weapons when it fulfils its requirements to form agents and use in warfare. (1) In WW1, WW2 and Iraq–Iran war (1979-1988) the world has witnessed the use of chemical and nuclear warfare and also the devastating effects of it.

Chemical Weapons. Chemicals are very essential in everyday life. They provide society with a wide range of benefits, particularly in the agricultural and industrial sector. At the same time, chemicals have the potential to cause severe health and environmental hazards when it is used as chemical weapons. As per the definition given by Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) at their Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) book, it is said ‘ Any Chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals’ is known as toxic chemical and munitions and devices, specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of toxic chemicals which would be released as a result of the employment of such munitions and devices’ (2) are known as chemical weapons.

That means we can say chemical weapons are those that are effective because of their toxicity: that is, their chemical action can cause death, permanent harm or temporary incapacity. Weapons that use chemicals as propellants, explosives, incendiaries or obscurants are not chemical weapons, even though the chemicals in them may also have toxic effects. Only weapons whose main goal is to have toxic effects are considered chemical weapons. Some toxic chemicals, such as phosgene, hydrogen cyanide and tear gas, may be used for both civil and peaceful, and hostile purposes. When they are used for hostile purposes, they are considered chemical weapons.

At present, total 192 states have already joined the CWC and all these states were bound for the destruction of all chemical weapons by 2012. As per the convention of OPCW, ‘ 97% chemical weapons and its production facilities have been destroyed by this time and rest are in the process of being destroyed’. (3) According to the United States government, at least 17 nations had active chemical weapons programs. A summary of the nations that have either declared weapon stockpiles, or are suspected of secretly stockpiling or possessing Chemical Weapons (CW) research programs is as follows. (4)



Biological Weapons. Biological weapons are also known as germ weapons when it is used purposefully to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or even plants. Biological toxins or infectious agents can be produced in a biological laboratory and can be used against humans as weapons. ‘The chief characteristic of biological agents is their ability to multiply in a host over time’. (5)

According to the taxonomy biological agents can be of fungi, bacteria and viruses. Starting from the ancient period and in WW1 and in different times in the past, it is seen that biological agents are being used as means of waging war and as well as hostile purposes. The continuous research and the knowledge are essential for detection, identification, prophylaxis and treatment for the disease spreaded due to the effect of biological agents.

Radiological Weapons. The radioactive material that is purposefully used to contaminate humans, equipment and overall environment is widely known as Radiological Weapons. ‘A radiological weapon or radiological dispersion device is any weapon that is designed to spread radioactive material with the intent to kill and cause disruption’. (6) Radiological dispersal device (RDD) can be a part of explosive device which acts on detonation.

In other way any improvised explosive device could be used by placing it in close proximity to radioactive material. In general, radiological weapons are very much suitable largely for terror activities, political and denial of particular area rather than mass killings. The radiological source and quality greatly impacts the effectiveness of a radiological weapon. The effect of radiological weapon depends on many factors like amount of energy and type of radiation, longevity, availability, shielding, portability and the role of the environment at the point where radioactive material is released.

Nuclear Weapons. ‘A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission (fission bomb) or from a combination of fission and fusion reactions (thermonuclear bomb)’. (7) More than twenty four countries of the world have nuclear power, but only a few have nuclear weapons. Known countries that have nuclear weapons are given below: (8)


CBRN Defence. Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence (CBRN defense or CBRNE defence) is protective measures taken in situations in which chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear warfare (including terrorism) hazards may be present. CBRN defence consists of CBRN passive protection, contamination avoidance and CBRN mitigation.

CBRN Incident. An accidental CBRN incident is an event caused by human error or natural or technological reasons, such as spills, accidental releases or leakages. These accidental incidents are usually referred to as DG or HAZMAT accidents. Outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as SARS, or pandemic influenza are examples of naturally occurring biological incidents.

Characteristics of CBRN. CBRN incident or accident is not the matter of other types of incident or accident. CBRN affected people cannot be evacuated by others instantly as like as other types of disasters. A deliberate preparation for the rescuers needs to take to handle these types of casualties. Chemical or Biological weapons relatively ease and cheap in production.

Radiological and Nuclear weapon is relatively expensive and hard to make it in comparison to chemical and biological weapons. But, all these are very much potential for loss of life and for long term effects. These weapons demand immediate medical treatment for mass casualties and need for timely, efficient and effective mass decontamination system.

Perceived Threat of CBRN

Easy to Make Chemical Weapons. There are some imported chemicals in Bangladesh those are toxic and potential to make chemical agents (Sarin, Tabun etc). Triethanolamine is one of those toxic chemical and this chemical has much use in Bangladesh to produce textile softener. ‘The hard fact is that the level of Knowledge required to manufacture chemical agents is on the order of a competent organic chemistry graduate student having much less knowledge those required for making biological weapons’. (9) The raw material and equipment required for these purposes are readily available in the market. Anyone can collect it silently from market without notice and can make low-tech weapons for terrorism.

Easy to Make Biological Weapons. For making a biological agent or weapon someone need not to be a superpower or to have super knowledge. Biological weapons are inexpensive and accessible. ‘A small pharmaceutical industry or even moderately sophisticated university or medical research laboratory can generate significant biological agents’. (10) There is no requirement to have a modern delivery means for spreading the biological agent.

A simple improvised crop sprayer is good enough to spread the biological agent to a particular area or on to a group of people. All available information about how to develop biological agent is readily available in open source literature and as well as more on the internet. The fact is that a small quantity of biological agents is sufficient to obtain a greater lethality. For example, in the case of anthrax, ‘1 gram produces one trillion spores and that amount equivalent to 100 million lethal does’. (11)

Nuclear Terrorism. In present world context, proliferation of nuclear weapons remains a silent threat for all the countries. But as a whole, ‘Obtaining nuclear weapons by unauthorized individual or group seems unlikely because nuclear materials are difficult to acquire and to handle’. (12) Hard fact is that as the radioactive material is too dangerous, so the non-state actors or terrorist may not be interested to obtain nuclear weapon, instead they will be interested to have radioactive material through which they can create panic and fear threatening possession of nuclear bomb or release of radioactive material.

The nuclear waste also offers an easy method of terrorism. Ruppur Nuclear power plant is going to be reality in near future, should be given due attention to counter the threat in future. As a whole, fact is that whether a nation has nuclear weapon or not, but existence of nuclear weapons by some countries nearby is unsafe for others and failure to control it would be catastrophic for everyone and everywhere on this earth.

Historical Examples of Use of CBRN Agents

Early Use. In 600 BC and then onward, the world has witnessed the use of both chemical and biological agents as a method of warfare. Solon of Athens put hellebore roots in the river that served as drinking water for the city of Kirrha. Scythian archers used poisoned arrows and manure for decomposing bodies. ‘Catapulting of plaque victims into the town of Caffa by the attacking Tatars was made in 1346. Smallpox was reportedly used as a weapon in colonization of both North and South America in the 15-1700’s’. (13)

Modern Use. Modern use of CBRN weapons started in Europe during WWI. German army releases huge tones of liquid chlorine into a breeze that would carry a cloud of asphyxiating vapor towards enemy lines that affects more than ten thousand soldiers of French, Algerian and Canadian forces and one-third of them died. ‘In 1961, China accuses the United States of starting a cholera epidemic in Hong Kong’. (14)

In 1961-75, During Viet Nam War, Chemical weapons were used (Agent Orange); suspected use of Tricothecene Mycotoxins (“Yellow Rain). In 1980-88, During Iran-Iraq war Iraq used mustard gas and nerve gas against Iranian Forces. In 1988, mustard and nerve gas was used by the government of Iraq against the people of Halabja. In 1995, Tokyo, Japan, Aum Shinrikyo launched a coordinated attack on the subway using the nerve agent sarin in pierced bags.

On 21 August 2013, Chemical Weapons (Sarin) were used in Ghouta, Syria that killed near about two thousand civilian and same was repeated on 04 April 2017, in Idlib, Syria, due to sarin attack, many civilian man, women and children died. On 13 February 2017, at Kuala Lampur International Airport, a North Korean leader was assaulted by two women by VX (Chemical weapon) and died on the way to hospital.

CBRN Defence of Neighbouring Countries

India. ‘In 2005, India established the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)’. (15) Main task of this authority is to build capacity to respond to any type of disasters, including CBRN disasters. While undergoing a course named ‘Basic Assistance and Protection Course against Chemical Warfare Agents’ as one of the participants in 2014 in Delhi, it is learnt that the NDMA, India has National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) which was set up to train, equip and respond to any type of disasters.

The officers of Indian Armed Forces come on deputation and serve three to four years to NDRF and then rotate. The NDRF units are geographically located in those areas prone to frequent disasters to facilitate their speedy response. Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Science (INMAS) are the two important organizations which are responsible to train and carry out research on CBRN issues. ‘The Civil Defense Organizations (CDOs), the Central Police Organizations (CPOs), Home Guards (HGs) have been reorganized, revamped, reoriented, trained and equipped to be the first responders for all disasters.

Indian Army has formed Quick Reaction Teams and Quick Reaction Medical Teams to respond to any CBRN disasters anywhere in India. Large number of hospitals in various cities and districts all over India has been designated to prepare for treating CBRN causalities’. (16) It is also learnt from Indian participants that NDRF Units, CDOs, CPOs, HGs, all these disaster response forces are regularly conducting joint mock drills/exercises at various locations to practice prompt responses to any CBRN disasters.

Indonesia. Indonesian army has a CBRN Defence unit. ‘The unit was founded on 22 April 1986 under the command of Indonesian Army Engineering Directorate. The unit also cooperates with Ministry of Health, Indonesian Nuclear power regulator agency, Verteliner Research Agency, and National Nuclear Power agency. This unit is the one and only unit that can handle CBRN Defense Capability’. (17)

Malaysia. The Malaysian Army formed a CBRN unit in April 2002. The Pasukan Gerakan Khas (PGK) has two special operations detachments with HAZMAT expertise - 69 Commandos and Special Actions Unit. The Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) also has a CBRN unit. (18)

Pakistan. The outfit the Pakistan has their CBRN defence system which is not known much through internet. But, while undergoing a course named “Advanced Assistance and Protection Course against Chemical Warfare Agents” as one of the participants in 2014 in Islamabad, (19) it is learnt that Pakistan has Defence Science and Technology Organization (DESTO) within which it has Chemical Biological Defence Cell (CBDC) which is engaged in research and imparting training to their first responders and armed forces personnel to fight against Chemical and Biological warfare agents.

Most of the retired army officers and men along with civil experts on Chemical and Biological matter are serving in DESTO and CBDC in Pakistan. ‘Pakistan has CBRN Reconnaissance Vehicle known as the PARS 6 x 6 platforms. This Reconnaissance Vehicle has the capability to detect and identify Chemical Warfare Agents (CWA) and Toxic Industrial Materials (TIM), including a Standoff Detection capability, radiation detection, and the detection and identification of Biological Agents.

The vehicle is also fitted with a remote control stabilized weapon system on which a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher, 12.7 mm or 7.62 mm machine gun can be fitted in accordance with user requirements. The vehicle has been designed for a CBRN Reconnaissance team of 4 personnel comprising driver, team / vehicle commander and two CBRN operators. An additional crew seat has been included within the PARS 6 x 6 to further improve operational capability and crew flexibility, particularly when taking and handling Chemical and Biological samples for further analysis’. (20) With this information it is well understood that Pakistan has well defined CBRN defence system in their overall outfit of the defence system of the country.

Present State of Bangladesh to Fight against CBRN Incident/Accident

At present, imparting training on CBRN for officers and men of Bangladesh army is almost zero. A bit orientation training on Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) warfare with a little bit of explanation is imparted to the Basic course of Armoured, Ordinance and officers Gunnery Staff course of Artillery. There is no other general awareness is formally made to the members of army at any stage. Thereby, officers and men of Bangladesh Army are not ready to fight against CBRN accident or incident if it happens anytime and goes beyond the capability of civil administration.

In fact, Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSCD) are also not equipped to fight against CBRN. Of late, Bangladesh National Authority for Chemical Weapons Convention (BNACWC) has been sending personnel of FSCD for various courses under sponsorship of OPCW. A letter from BNACWC has been sent to Ministry of Home Affairs (21) highlighting the importance for equipping FSCD to fight against chemical hazards and also formation of specialized unit at FSCD to handle the incident at first responders.

Overview on CBRN Training System

CBRN Emergency. The consequence of CBRN emergencies may stretch national capabilities to their maximum extent. Responsibility for first response remains with individual nations. It is essential that the nations would build and prepare their resources to respond and mitigate the consequence of an emergency situation to lives, property and the equipment. Due to the nature of CBRN incidents, particularly their trans-national effects, cooperation between south and south Asia is also needed. A generic guideline for the CBRN response training may be as follows:

a. The purpose of such training is to ensure that first responders have a common knowledge base and a minimum level of preparedness when responding to CBRN incidents. Such training is designed to assist nations to improve their civil emergency plans, complements national training system and improves cooperation between first responders.

b. The term first responders in case of CBRN refer to individual and teams that are involved in activities which address the immediate and short-term affects to an emergency. It includes on scene personnel from Police, Fire Brigade and health services activities to minimize the consequences of a CBRN emergency. It includes personnel in hospitals and crisis management also.

Training Issues. CBRN training needs to be addressed on following issues:

a. Type of CBRN threat perceives at national and international level.

b. Awareness requirements in response to CBRN incident/accident.

c. Protection requirements in CBRN response.

d. Decontamination requirements in relation to CBRN response.

e. First aid requirements and ways in relation to CBRN response.

f. Command and Control requirements in relation to CBRN response.

g. Understanding of civil-military cooperation during CBRN response.


Having discussed on CBRN perceived threat and preparedness in Bangladesh perspective, the author recommends the following steps to be taken as early as possible:

a. Formation of CBRN Centre. At national level, Bangladesh should have a CBRN centre where the professionals will have scope for evaluating the CBRN matters continuously and adopt policy and measures for its mitigation. Preparedness is the key to combat against CBRN disaster. Without the structural outfit, purposeful training and capacity building for the prevention of CBRN disaster is less likely to take place.

b. Formation of Specialized Unit to Fight against CBRN. FSCD must have a specialized unit to fight against CBRN issues. This matter is felt by the officers of BNACWC and FSCD. Matters are also being discussed at appropriate level. Bangladesh Army should form a specialized unit to fight against CBRN warfare agent related accident or incident when it goes beyond civil administration. For this, Army may think to earmark one of the sub units of fighting forces of one or two Divisions and that forces may undergo training on CBRN matters at regular basis offered by OPCW and BNACWC as well.


Bangladesh Army should be prepared to face any disasters whether man made or natural. Expectation to army from the people of the country is always ever high. Bangladesh Army is prepared to face any disaster but in case of CBRN emergency, Bangladesh Army is yet to be capable enough to face it as like as other disasters. Different types of chemicals are being used in Bangladesh for peaceful purposes. A few chemicals among those are very toxic and have the converting potentiality to make chemical warfare agents through synthesis process.

Though the CBRN warfare threat is less likely but due to availability of toxic chemical in open market and lot of pharmaceuticals industries and research laboratories offers suitable ground for misuse of those by interested people to make chemical and biological warfare agents. Here lies a hidden threat in Bangladesh perspective. Almost all our neighbouring countries like India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, etc. have CBRN defence system in their outfit. The term first responder in case of CBRN refers personnel from Police, Fire Brigade and health services to minimize the consequences of CBRN emergency.

Along with the capacity building of Fire Brigade as first responders on CBRN emergency it is also the reality in Bangladesh that Army is being called when civil administration fails to manage any big disaster. In that perspective, Bangladesh Army should have a sub-unit to practice CBRN defence system and at national level there should have a CBRN centre where the expertise will continue the research work on the development of CBRN issues to formulate the policy and guideline for its mitigation.


1 https://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/CBRN_defence.

2 Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

3 www.opcw.org.

4 https://www.wikipedia.com.

5 Joshua liderbery, ‘Biological weapons: Limiting the Threat’.

6 K. Bhushan G. Katyal ‘Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare’ published by A.P.H publishing corporation, 5 Ansari road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi- 110002.

7 K. Bhushan G. Katyal ‘Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare’ published by A.P.H publishing corporation, 5 Ansari road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi- 110002.

8 https://www.wikipedia.com

9 https://www.wikipedia.com.

10 K. Bhushan G. Katyal ‘Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare’ published by A.P.H publishing corporation, 5 Ansari road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi- 110002.

11 L.R. Reddy ‘Bio-Terrorism’ published by A.P.H publishing corporation, 5 Ansari road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi110002.

12 K. Bhushan G. Katyal ‘Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare’ published by A.P.H publishing corporation, 5 Ansari road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi- 110002.

13 https://www.en.wikipedia.org/smallpox.

14 https://www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov

15 https://www.ndma.gov.in/chemical _disaster.

16 https://www.cbrneportal.com.

17 https://www.wikiwand.com/en/CBRN_defense.

18 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/pasukar.Gerakan_khas.

19 A Handbook on Assistance and Protection against chemical warfare agents by Pakistan on 25 October 2014.

20 https://defence.pk

21 Armed Forces Division, Civil and Military Relations Directorate, BNACWC Section Letter No 06.00.0000. date 23 July 2017.



1. L R Reddy ‘ Bio-Terrorism’ published by A.P.H publishing corporation, 5 Ansari road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi- 110002.

2. K. Bhushan G. Katyal ‘Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare’ published by A.P.H publishing corporation, 5 Ansari road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi- 110002.

3. Joshua liderbery, ‘Biological weapons: Limiting the Threat’.

4. Noun Chomsky, ‘The Culture of Terrorism’.


5. GSTP-0045.

6. Draft Army Training Doctrine, Dhaka 2011.

7. Manual of Qualifications 2012 (Revised).

8. The Army Regulations, Volume-I (Rules).

9. Convention on the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and on their destruction. Published by OPCW.

10. A Handbook on Assistance and Protection against Chemical Warfare Agents by India on 25 August 2014.

11. A Handbook on Assistance and Protection against chemical warfare agents by Pakistan on 25 October 2014.

12. Bangladesh Gazette, The Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act, 2006.


13. Letter forwarded to Ministry of Home Affairs by BNACWC on 23 July 2017.


14. Author participated a course in Delhi, India on “Basic Assistance and Protection Course against Chemical Warfare Agents” from 25-29 August 2014.

15. Author participated a course in Islamabad, Pakistan on “Advance Assistance and Protection Course against Chemical Warfare Agents” from 27-31 October 2014.

16. Interactive session with the officers of Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSCD) held at Armed Forces Division on 02 August 2017.


17. https://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/CBRN_defence.

18. www.opcw.org.

19. https://www.wikipedia.com.

20. https://www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov

21. https://www.en.wikipedia.org/smallpox.

22. https://www.ndma.gov.in/chemical _disaster.

23. https://www.cbrneportal.com.

24. https://www.wikiwand.com/en/CBRN_defence.

25. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/pasukar.Gerakan_khas.

Source- Bangladesh Army Journal 62nd Issue, 2017.

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