WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Ash Carter flatly denied Thursday the frenzied Internet speculation that a U.S. military exercise in Texas is part of a hostile takeover or other nefarious Pentagon mission.
Asked during a news conference about the Jade Helm 15 exercise and whether the Pentagon was "planning to overtake Texas," Carter simply said "no" as people in the packed room laughed.
The exercise is the largest conducted by U.S. Army Special Operations Command. The military routinely conducts massive air, ground and sea training around the world, and often with multiple other countries.
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has asked his State Guard to monitor the training exercise. Last week more than 200 people packed a meeting in rural Bastrop County asking whether the government was planning to confiscate guns or implement martial law.
"We're very open and up front about our training activities in the United States, and I should say that we're very grateful for the support of communities around the United States," said Carter, adding that officials have tried to answer all questions about Jade Helm.
The three-month exercise begins in July and involves about 1,200 troops — special operations forces from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force as well as members of the 82nd Airborne Division. It's spread across seven states — Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida — and will be conducted mainly on military installations but also on some remote public and private lands with the approval of landowners.
The diverse locations are meant to replicate the various climates and conditions the special operations forces would face when deployed around the world, and allow them to hone their combat skills.
According to officials, no live ammunition will be used, but there will likely be blank ammunition and other pyrotechnics, such as smoke grenades. The troops will train for a variety of military missions during the day and night, including rescue and recovery attempts, airborne operations and long-range combat movements.
Internet suspicions about Jade Helm spiked on some conservative websites and social media after a map labeled Texas, Utah and parts of California as "hostile" areas for the purposes of the exercise. Military training often includes mock-ups of enemy camps or other facilities so that the U.S. forces can practices infiltration and other missions.