The Army drops in...
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 15 Apr 97 22:54:12 -0700
Subject: The Army drops in...
Forwarded-by: Jens Alfke <email@example.com>
Excerpted-from: Army's anti-terrorist drills frighten, anger city dwellers
BY DANA PRIEST
WASHINGTON -- A dozen U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters, their lights
out, descended from the night sky March 4 on a corner of Charlotte, N.C.
They swooped among the high-rise apartment buildings, then dropped
dozens of special operations troops, some with their weapons blasting,
into an abandoned warehouse to capture a group of ``terrorists.''
Some terrified residents grabbed their guns. Others ducked into
doorways. The 911 line went crazy, as did Mayor Pat McCrory's telephone
``I could barely hear the callers because of the helicopter noise and
the gunfire in the background,'' McCrory recalled.
Neither McCrory nor his police chief was sure what was going on. But
they had a clue: Three months earlier, two men in jeans and T-shirts
from the secretive U.S. Army Special Operations Command had visited
McCrory's office to ask permission to conduct urban counterterrorism
exercises they said would go unnoticed. McCrory signed a confidentiality
statement agreeing not to disclose the event beforehand for national
``We were misled,'' said McCrory, who was forced by the public outcry to
kick the Army out of Charlotte after the first of what was to have been
three days of urban anti-terrorism training.
``How they thought you could come in and out without any disturbance is
beyond me. It was almost like a blitzkrieg operation. People went and
got their guns. I feel fortunate no one was hurt.''
Over the last three years, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command has
conducted at least 21 such exercises in 21 U.S. cities, including
Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans,
Miami, Pittsburgh and Seattle.
In city after city, the exercises have drawn fire from frightened
residents who are not told beforehand that the several roaring
helicopters flying in circles several hundred feet overhead late at
night -- blacked out except for a tiny red taillight for safety -- are
trying to get as close as possible to the buildings they appear about to
The confusion and fear caused by their invasion is compounded when
residents see dark-suited figures slide down ropes dangling from the
choppers and then begin firing loud blanks from their assault weapons.
The simulated sound of grenades and incoming artillery often follows, as
does, in some cases, the sound of real, small breaching explosives used
to blast open doors.
To top it off, local police are on hand to keep traffic away from the
exercise site -- typically an abandoned warehouse, jail or apartment
building -- but often refuse to tell motorists what the commotion is all
News media offices and 911 operators, who are not alerted to the
exercises beforehand, also cannot provide information. Several callers
to state law enforcement agencies have been told to call the Defense
Department in Washington.
Last June, troops were forced to leave Pittsburgh early because of the
uproar. In Houston, a night's exercise was cut short when a helicopter
landed hard, rolled over and its two occupants were hospitalized.
Thousands of callers to local media there demanded that the troops leave
town. ``Who invited them?'' demanded one caller.
Lt. Col. Pete Pierce of Special Operations Command said the Army
retreated early from Charlotte because the operations were more
disruptive than anticipated. He said people on the streets closest to
the exercises were notified just before the maneuvers but, he added,
``in the process of notification, people are going to get missed.''
Army officials argue that only cities give troops the chance to work on
real-life challenges, such as using night-vision equipment in partially
lit areas, avoiding power lines and dropping troops quickly enough to go
virtually unnoticed by the citizenry.
Safety in secrecy
It is safer for the troops to descend in secret than to alert residents
and risk the sightseeing crowds that would gather, said one Army
official, who added: ``And they don't want their equipment photographed.
They don't want their tactics, operations and procedures known.''
As the threat of urban terrorism abroad has increased, Army officials
say it has become all the more important that their troops be skilled at
flying into an urban obstacle course of skyscrapers and towers and
inserting teams of special operations troops: Green Berets, Rangers, the
160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and the super-secret Delta
Force. Such troops would likely be deployed abroad to rescue hostages,
capture enemies and kill terrorists.
``I can't imagine there isn't an American around who wouldn't want these
guys to be as good as they can be,'' said Army Lt. Col. Ray Whitehead.
``This is real serious stuff.''
© 1997 Peter Langston