Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered members of the Texas Military to monitor federal troops in an upcoming two-month training exercise planned for the Lone Star State.
Operation Jade Helm will bring the U.S. military's most elite soldiers, including the Green Berets and Navy SEALS, to Texas for simulated special operations in a hostile territory. But plans for the exercise have roused fears in many Texans of a federal occupation.
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In a letter to Major General Gerald Betty of the Texas State Guard, Abbott said his order was "to address concerns of Texas citizens."
"During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property right and civil liberties will not be infringed," the governor wrote. "I am directing the Texas State Guard to monitor Operation Jade Helm 15."
The State Guard is a militia of volunteer reservists, headquartered at Camp Mabry in Austin, meant to serve in times of emergency or catastrophe. It is one of three branches of the Texas Military, a force commanded by the governor.
Chapter 431 of the Texas Government Code--"State Militia"--reads, "The governor may call all or part of the state military forces to repel or suppress an invasion of or insurrection in or threatened invasion of or insurrection in the state or if the governor considers it necessary to enforce state law. If the number of state military forces is insufficient, the governor shall call the part of the reserve militia that the governor considers necessary."
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Officials with the State Guard said they'd been asked to monitor the federal troops in order to provide updates on the progress and safety of the operation, but hadn't yet developed a plan.
"We are always ready to answer the call of the Governor, and we are in the initial planning and coordination phase in response to the Governor's directive," a spokesperson said.
The announcement follows weeks of growing public outcry over the training event. Super right-wing news websites first circulated an Army document describing the planned exercise in March, and since then a broad theory of military plans to subdue Texans and institute martial law has emerged. At a weekend meeting of the commissioners' court of Bastrop County—one of 17 Texas counties that will see federal troops training between July and September, hundreds of citizens turned out to voice fear and anger with an Army spokesman.
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At least two counties, Victoria and Goliad, have seen their portions of the exercise canceled by the Army, but officials with the Victoria County Sherriff's Office said they did not know why.
Army Special Operations Spokesman Mark Lastoria told the Chronicle that more than 1,000 troops would practice "emerging concepts in special operations warfare," and said expressed fears of soldiers in civilian areas "center around misinterpretations." The Washington Post has reported that past military exercises have seen U.S. troops treat domestic territory as hostile for the sake of training.
But it's done little to ease the fears of Texans highly distrustful of the federal government. In a press release, the governor said he hoped his deployment of Texas troops to monitor the exercises would comfort citizens.
"Directing the State Guard to monitor the Operation will allow Texas to be informed of the details of military personnel movements and training exercise schedules, and it will give us the ability to quickly and effectively communicate with local communities, law enforcement, public safety personnel and citizens," he wrote.