Wednesday, March 1, 2017

It’s only a drill Guantánamo rehearses Caribbean migrant crisis

It's only a drill: Guantánamo rehearses Caribbean migrant crisis

Hundreds of U.S. forces are rehearsing a migrant crisis this week at the
U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a massive multimillion dollar
drill that envisions the United States capturing huge numbers of people
in the Caribbean bound for the United States — and how the military,
State Department and Homeland Security would collaborate on handling it.

At the Southern Command, Army Col. Lisa Garcia said the military was
contributing 400 troops and spending $2.5 million on its portion of the
month-long exercise, to include transportation and airlift. It ends Friday.

She said Southcom's "battle staff" is taking part in the exercise as
well as its Public Affairs team. The Miami Herald asked to watch and
report on the exercise and was declined. The U.S. military likewise
declined to release photos of it.

RELATED NEWS: Miami Herald report on the 2013 exercise at Guantánamo

It's called Operation Integrated Advance and it "is dedicated to
improving our integration with federal and local partners," the colonel

The military has engaged in some sort of annual Guantánamo-related
migrant exercise for at least a decade. The Department of Homeland
Security participates every other year. This one, however, is the first
since the Obama administration withdrew the "wet foot, dry foot" policy
of granting legal entry status to visa-less Cubans who manage to arrive
on U.S. soil.

Base residents and visitors have spotted the activity and asked whether
the event was somehow related to a planned surge in deportations of
undocumented migrants from the United States since President Donald
Trump took office and hired retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, a former
Southcom commander, as Secretary of Homeland Security.

A Department of Homeland statement called the exercise "routine." But
spokesmen would not say whether it additionally was training to put
deportees there or limited only to war-gaming how to handle something
like the humanitarian crisis that saw tent cities sprout across the base
in the 1990s to temporarily hold up to 60,000 Cubans and Haitians across
several waves.

The spokesmen similarly would not say whether the Trump administration
has considered whether it can use the Homeland Security migrant
facilities at the U.S. Navy base for people picked up on U.S. soil
versus those collected by the Coast Guard or Navy at sea.

The exercise — which has had troops building a tent city and overwhelmed
some guest housing facilities for weeks — runs through March 3. They are
expected to pull up stakes and be gone by Sunday when the Pentagon
dispatches an airlift of staff and observers for a series of war court
hearings in three cases that will extend into April.

"This year's exercise scenario focuses on a potential mass migration in
the Caribbean," a Homeland Security statement said Wednesday. "The
primary objective is to protect the safety of life at sea and to deter
mass migration using organic DHS forces reinforced by other federal,
state, and local assets and capabilities."

It also said: "As stated by Secretary Kelly previously, there will be no
mass deportations."

Most of the 400 troops were sent to the base from Southcom's U.S. Army
South subsidiary at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. About half of them
are staying in warehouse-style housing, another quarter in tents erected
on the base's Leeward side for the occasion and the last 100 or more are
sharing guest quarters, two to a room, Garcia said.

Another 50 civilians are also taking part, Garcia said by email.

A series of government offices contacted by the Herald were unable to
account for the total tab of the project, which trains troops to detain,
process, house and care for people interdicted at sea trying to reach
the United States. It in the past it has envisioned command centers in
Texas, Miami and Washington, D.C., for different functions.

The International Organization for Migration also has had a role in
training for the repatriation of the migrants. But, "since most of the
exercise is simulated, the cost of the exercise is much lower than if we
actually deployed ships and aircraft as we would in the event of a mass
migration," Garcia said.

Last year, the base hospital took part in a similar drill documented in
a U.S. Navy video.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

Source: Guantánamo rehearses migrant crisis | Miami Herald -

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