The mission is vast both geographically and strategically: Elite service members from four branches of the U.S. military will launch an operation this summer in which they will operate covertly among the U.S. public and travel from state to state in military aircraft. Texas, Utah and a section of southern California are labeled as hostile territory, and New Mexico isn’t much friendlier.
That’s the scheme for Jade Helm 15, a new Special Operations exercise that runs from July 15 to Sept. 15. Army Special Operations Command announced it last week, saying the size and scope of the mission sets it apart from many other training exercises.
“The nature of warfare is always changing and U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s mission is to make certain the Army’s various Special Operations Forces are trained, equipped and organized to successfully conduct worldwide special operations in support of our nation’s interests,” Army Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria, a command spokesman, said in an e-mail. “Training exercise Jade Helm is going to assist our Special Operations Soldiers and leadership in refining the skills needed against an ever changing foreign threat.”
The exercise has prompted widespread conspiracy theories that the United States is preparing to hatch martial law. Some examples:
In particular, some have expressed alarm about this map, which outlines events for the exercise in unclassified documents posted online last week. The Washington Post verified them to be legitimate by speaking to Army sources. They appear to have been prepared for local authorities.
Several media outlets have noted that the Army has pushed back on the outcry, including Stars & Stripes, Army Times and the Houston Chronicle. But it’s also worth noting that the military has routinely launched exercises in the past in which regions of the United States are identified as hostile for the purpose of training.
Consider Bold Alligator, a naval exercise in which thousands of Marines and sailors have been involved in the past. The most recent version was launched last fall, and included amphibious landings to prevent insurgent groups in the fictional country known as Garnet — Georgia and part of Florida in real life — from launching attacks.
The map looked like this in Navy documents:
In another example, U.S. Special Forces support fictional guerrilla forces in numerous counties across North Carolina in the exercise Robin Sage. Green Beret soldiers work to liberate the country of Pineland, and operate in close proximity to civilians, who are warned that they may hear blank gunfire.
Marine Special Operations troop also have an exercise that is in some ways similar and called Derna Bridge. It spans several counties in western South Carolina, and includes some activities in Sumter National Forest.
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