More info given on U.S.-Cuba Gitmo drills

July 20, 2009 at 4:52 PM
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GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, July 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. military has released more information than usual about its annual joint disaster training exercises with Cuban troops, observers say.

Under the Bush administration, little was said about the annual exercises involving the Cold War rivals at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Navy base, but that changed this year, as officials provided details about what is called a "mass casualty exercise" with Cuba, The Miami Herald reported.

The newspaper said although journalists still were not allowed to watch the proceedings, a military spokesman indicated the activities included having a Cuban Army helicopter flying over the base to drop 500 gallons of water on burning plywood to extinguish a simulated wildfire, as well as U.S. sailors crossing into Cuba to set up a test triage center.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Jack Sheehan told the Herald he instituted the exercises in the 1990s as part of an outreach to a military force that would be vital to cooperate with should a natural disaster devastate Guantanamo, but they were kept secret.

The increased media exposure, he said, is likely a "trial balloon" by the Obama administration in experimenting with normalizing relations with Havana.

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