A covert, off-base military training exercise this summer in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, California, and Nevada is igniting fears about looming martial law or a crackdown on right-leaning groups —
despite Army assurances the practice is just sharpening skills for overseas missions.
Operation Jade Helm will bring together forces, including the Green Berets, SEALS, and special operations commands from the Air Force and Marines, for training in a simulated "hostile" territory, the Houston Chronicle reports.
And though Army Special Operation Command spokesman Mark Lastoria told the newspaper soldiers would practice "emerging concepts in special operations warfare," conspiracy theories flourishing online speculate about something far more sinister.
Austin-based TV and radio commentator Alex Jones on Sunday reported the operation under the headline "Feds Preparing To Invade Texas"
after he obtained an unclassified Army document about the operation.
Lastorie told Stars and Stripes
his office had been bombarded with calls from people now concerned about "the nature of the training objectives."
According to the Chronicle, the exercises will include the use of soldiers trying to operate undetected in civilian populations in some towns and cities where residents will be advised to report any suspicious activity in order to test the military's effectiveness.
"They're going to set up cells of people and test how well they're able to move around without getting too noticed in the community," Roy Boyd, chief deputy with the Victoria County Sheriff's Office, told the Chronicle. "They're testing their abilities to basically blend in with the local environment and not stand out and blow their cover."
But Lastoria told Stars and Stripes the exercise is "routine," claiming fears of a federal takeover are being fueled by "a few individuals who are unfamiliar with how and why USASOC conducts training exercises."
The only thing unique about the exercise —
set to roll out between July 15 and Sept. 15 —
is "the use of new challenging terrain" chosen because it's similar to conditions special operations forces operate in overseas, Lastoria told Stars and Stripes.
He added that coordination with local law enforcement is necessary for safety reasons because some of the training will take place outside of military bases where civilian agencies have jurisdiction.
But Jones insists despite "assurances that the training is to prepare troops for overseas missions, Army documents in the past have made clear that plans for martial law are in place for within the Continental United States."
And he also argues the operation could be compared to a a 2012 scenario outlined by retired Army colonel Kevin Benson in which the military is used to crush a rebellion of tea party militia members
who take over a city in South Carolina.
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