Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Venezuela prepares for 'possible US invasion'

While US warships hold exercises in the Caribbean, Venezuela’s military will mobilise its own training exercises next week with thousands of troops practising to defend the country’s coastline, a top navy official said yesterday.

Vice Admiral Armando Laguna said 10,000 active military personnel and 3,500 civilians and reservists will participate in the exercises, which technically began earlier this month with seminars and strategic planning.

He said the war games are to start along the coast next week and eventually will involve manoeuvres with F-16 planes, ships and helicopters.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce critic of Washington, has said the country must be prepared to face a possible US invasion, and has accused the US military of trying to threaten Venezuela with naval exercises it is holding in the Caribbean this month.

Laguna said Venezuela had been planning the training since last year and it was not a response to the US naval exercises. But he added that Venezuela’s navy “is prepared to be on alert for all those operations.”

The US deployed an aircraft carrier and other ships and planes to the Caribbean this month for joint exercises with various countries’ militaries. The training is to last through late May.

The Venezuelan exercises, dubbed Operation Integral Defence Patriot Navy, began April 1 and will last until June 15, Laguna said.

“We have to prepare ourselves for any threat to our territory,” Laguna said, adding that troops would also train to defend the country’s oil fields.

He said 23 ships and patrol boats and two army helicopters will participate. The navy said in a statement that the training aims to help develop strategy for facing “a superior invading force” from the Caribbean.

US officials have repeatedly denied Chavez’s warnings about a possible US invasion, but they also have accused him of being a threat to regional stability.

Laguna said Venezuela would send two observers to the island of Curacao next month to monitor joint training between US, French and Dutch forces, he said.

Venezuela plans to hold its own joint training in Curacao at some point with Colombia and Brazil, Laguna said, as well as other exercises with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

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