The U.S. military also conducted a seminar on public affairs and information operations with members of the Lebanese armed forces including, according to an American in attendance, a discussion of "the use of propaganda in regards to military information support operations." In addition, there was a biannual joint underwater demolitions exercise, Operation Eager Mace, carried out with Kuwaiti forces.
These training missions are only a fraction of the dozens carried out each year in secret, far from the prying eyes of the press or local populations. They are a key component of an outsized Pentagon support system that also shuttles aid and weaponry to a set of allied Middle Eastern kingdoms and autocracies. These joint missions ensure tight bonds between the U.S. military and the security forces of repressive governments throughout the region, offering Washington access and influence and the host nations of these exercises the latest military strategies, tactics, and tools of the trade at a moment when they are, or fear being, besieged by protesters seeking to tap into the democratic spirit sweeping the region.
Secrets and Lies
The U.S. military ignored TomDispatch's requests for information about whether any joint operations were postponed, rescheduled, or canceled as a result of Arab Spring protests. In August, however, Agence France Presse reported that Bright Star, a biannual training exercise involving U.S. and Egyptian forces, had been canceled as a result of the popular revolt that overthrew president ally Hosni Mubarak, a Washington ally.
The number of U.S. training exercises across the region disrupted by pro-democracy protests, or even basic information about the total number of the Pentagon's regional training missions, their locations, durations, and who takes part in them, remain largely unknown. CENTCOM regularly keeps such information secret from the American public, not to mention populations across the Greater Middle East.
The military also refused to comment on exercises scheduled for 2012. There is nonetheless good reason to believe that their number will rise as regional autocrats look to beat back the forces of change. "With the end of Operation New Dawn in Iraq and the reduction of surge forces in Afghanistan, USCENTCOM exercises will continue to focus on... mutual security concerns and build upon already strong, enduring relationships within the region," a CENTCOM spokesman told TomDispatch by email.
Since pro-democracy protests and popular revolt are the "security concerns" of regimes from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to Jordan and Yemen, it is not hard to imagine just how the Pentagon's advanced training methods, its schooling in counterinsurgency tactics, and its aid in intelligence gathering techniques might be used in the months ahead.
This spring, as Operation African Lion proceeded and battered Moroccan protesters nursed their wounds, President Obama asserted that the "United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region" and supports basic human rights for citizens throughout the Greater Middle East. "And these rights," he added, "include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders -- whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran."
The question remains, does the United States believe the same is true for those who live in Amman, Kuwait City, Rabat, or Riyahd? And if so, why is the Pentagon strengthening the hands of repressive rulers in those capitals?
Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com. An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. This article is the third in his new series on the changing face of American empire. You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook.
Copyright 2011 Nick Turse