Two months after news surfaced that U.S. Special Operations troops will launch a broad training operation in several southwestern states this summer, the Texas state government is registering new concerns: Gov. Greg Abbott called Tuesday for the Texas State Guard to monitor the mission.
Abbott, a Republican, said in a letter to Maj. Gen. Gerald “Jake” Betty that he wants monitoring of Operation Jade Helm 15 “to address concerns of Texas citizens and to ensure that Texas communities remain safe, secure and informed occurring in their vicinity.” It marks the first time that a state governor has responded to outrage from those who fear the training exercise isn’t what the military promises.
“During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed,” Abbott wrote. “By monitoring the Operation on a continual basis, the State Guard will facilitate communication between my office and commanders of the Operation to ensure that adequate measures are in place to protect Texans.”
The State Guard falls under the command of the Texas National Guard and the governor, and is focused on providing support to local authorities in times of crisis. It is considered an organized, legal state militia.
The operation, announced by U.S. Army Special Operations Command in March, has prompted widespread conspiracy theories that the United States is preparing to hatch martial law. That is especially so in Texas, which was labeled in briefing slides prepared for local officials as hostile:
This map shows the military’s plan during the exercise Jade Helm 15, which begins in July. (U.S. Army Special Operations Command map)
As Checkpoint noted in March, the military has routinely launched exercises in which regions of the United States are identified as hostile for the purpose of training. But conspiracy theories continue to persist. Some have even hypothesized that the rioting in Baltimore is actually a cover for the military to take over through Jade Helm 15:
U.S. military officials have tried to tamp down the speculation. Army Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria, a spokesman for Army Special Operations Command, appeared on Monday at an informational meeting in Bastrop, Tex., and fielded a variety of pointed questions, according to the Statesman newspaper.
“You may have issues with the administration. So be it. But this institution right here has been with you for over 200 years,” Lastoria said at one point, according to the newspaper. “I’ve worn this uniform across five different administrations for 27 years.”
Lastoria has said repeatedly that the exercise is designed to prepare U.S. Special Operations troops to handle foreign threats.
Some photos of the event reflect the level of skepticism among Texas residents:
The outrage and conflicting information raise questions about the safety of U.S. troops involved in the exercise. Some have drawn parallels on social media to a 2002 incident in which a sheriff’s deputy in North Carolina shot two U.S. Special Forces soldiers in civilian clothing after they tried to disarm him. One of the soldiers was killed. They thought he was part of a role-playing exercise known as Robin Sage, which is a major training event for Green Beret soldiers, officials said at the time.
In 2009, the family of the soldier killed reached a financial settlement with the Moore County Sheriff’s Department in North Carolina and the former deputy involved, Randall Butler, according to news reports at the time.