There’s still a lot of concern about an exercise that will involve inserting special forces operatives into communities in Texas and Utah, which are notionally considered “hostile” territory for the exercise.
As laid out in my original post on Jade Helm (first link above), the purpose of the exercise is to drill in “unconventional warfare,” a branch of irregular warfare (IW) that focuses on supporting insurgencies in foreign countries. It’s important to note that this focus should in no way lead to things like violating Posse Comitatus, or sending federal troops around to collect firearms from Americans.
The special forces trainees will be simulating support for a local resistance or insurgency organization. The idea will be that they’re working with partisans that the U.S. considers friendly. In Texas, “hostile” territory, they won’t be doing anything that would involve using government force against citizens. Their exercise focus will be operating against a notional foreign government.
And that does make the news about Texas Governor Greg Abbott interesting. From a notional standpoint, the government of the state of Texas would in theory be part of the “hostile foreign government.” If the special forces operatives are going to avoid detection by the “hostile foreign government,” for example, or spy on it, some of the actual organizations they’d be operating against – at the regional level – would be those of the Texas state government.
The most obvious organization would be the state police, or the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). In a real-world unconventional-warfare operation, it would be important to evade, deceive, and spy on the DPS (that is, its foreign counterpart).
It hasn’t been made clear, as far as I can tell, whether Jade Helm will entail anything like that. As indicated in the brief this week (video below) to the citizens of Bastrop County (east of Austin, Texas), the special forces operators will wear either uniforms or orange armbands while in the local communities – which frankly will limit the value of what they’re accomplishing with the exercise. If everyone knows they’re there, including the police, they certainly won’t be able to exercise skills for evasion, going undetected, or going unidentified.
All the prior coordination and the assurances of overtness seem to militate, at least to some extent, against the stated purpose of Jade Helm. It’s worth remembering what the exercise planners, in their first round of briefings, said was important to them in selecting locations:
The exercise planners have emphasized that unconventional warfare training needs to occur, as they put it, in “large areas of undeveloped land with low population densities with access to towns.”
But if everyone knows they’re there, and how to identify them, much of the exercise seems a bit pointless.
At any rate, Governor Abbott has now directed the Texas State Guard to monitor Jade Helm for the duration of the live play. (The text of the letter is in this PDF file.) I regard this as a good thing. Abbott will require the Guard to provide him with regular reports on what’s going on; I would expect him to ask DPS to monitor also, as opportune (i.e., without dedicating resources). He can do that with an internal memo issued in the agency.
If that means Jade Helm doesn’t turn out to be much of an unconventional-warfare exercise, at least from the live-play standpoint, that’s OK. Americans don’t need to be any more conditioned than we already are to military exercises unfolding in our midst. It’s one thing for the military to practice its skills at training ranges on military reserves around the country. It’s something else – something citizens legitimately find unsettling – for military forces to simulate urban warfare skills in our streets.
That’s especially the case when the skills involve things like simulated detention of prisoners, as an exercise in March did in Broward County, Florida.
There’s nothing paranoid about finding it disturbing to see scenes like this in Fort Lauderdale:
Similar exercises have been held elsewhere in recent years (e.g., in Los Angeles and Minneapolis). No one is better aware than a military veteran that this training is intended to prepare our forces to deal with terrorism inside America, which is a real threat. But it’s a legitimate question how much the military needs to be involved in preparing for terrorism threats on our soil.
And the spectacle of the military running around in our towns and cities conducting irregular warfare exercises may be a wake-up call about the national defense policies that set this situation up. There’s more than one way to have national defense and homeland security. The American people should never get used to seeing Gestapo-style tactics practiced in our streets, by any branch of government or for any reason.
Governor Abbott is doing the right thing by keeping Jade Helm under scrutiny. Its purpose isn’t counterterrorism training anyway. If it doesn’t turn out to do much good to train for unconventional warfare in the small towns of Texas, that’s OK. There are higher national priorities.