Saturday, April 21, 2012

U.S. Troops to Train at Chilean Base

The U.S. and Chile have built a training center for peacekeeping mission at a military base in central Chile. The $460,000 installation consists of an urban setting and was specifically built for "blue helmet" operations under the command of the United Nations. Besides U.S. and Chilean troops, soldiers from Brazil, Argentina and other UN member countries will train in Concon, where Chile's marines have one of their four bases. The presence of U.S. troops rattled left-wing politicians, who characterized the project as a U.S. intrusion for belligerent purposes. Thar forced Defense Minister Andres Allamand to try to soothe critics' nerves. Chile's most significant role in UN peacekeeping missions is in Haiti, where it has stationed about 600 troops with support vehicles and helicopters.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Questions Grow in Probe of Air Tragedy

An Air Force plane that crashed, killing all 21 persons on board, had just left a maintenance facility without some scheduled repairs and little more than a paint job. The C-212 spent five months at an Enaer facility and underwent a major check back at its base. Yet the plane never got a bolt replacement the manufacturer recommended, and a crack in the wing and a faulty emergency beacon were never fixed, according to La Tercera. These details emerged after the Air Force released the maintenance records for the C-212, which crashed Sept. 2 as it tried to land on an island with a team of earthquake reconstruction volunteers. A popular TV personality also died in the crash, further heightening public interest in the tragedy. The plane's mechanical problems don't necessarily explain why the C-212 crashed on approach, although the bad beacon might explain why it took so long to find the wreckage. The plane also was overloaded on its final flight, although it's unclear if that could have been a factor in the failed landing, when much of the fuel already had been spent. But the combination of celebrity and the Air Force's waffling in the investigation has the service in a crisis. Already, one general has resigned. The mess also is undermining the Air Force's image as an elite, cutting-edge institution.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Draft Avoided as 12,000 Volunteers Join Armed Forces

Chile's armed forces were unsure they'd get enough volunteers this year after a protracted student protest frustrated the military's recruitment efforts. But in the end, more than 21,000 applied for military service -- 53.5% more than the required number. In the Army, 11,040 were accepted, including 842 women. Indeed, the interest among women to serve continues strong. More than 4,000 applied for the 842 slots available to them in the Army, meaning that just one in five was accepted. The Navy enlisted 620 men, the Air Force 460. This marked the sixth consecutive year that the three branches have filled their conscription rolls without having to call up anybody. There's a sense of patriotism for those who volunteer, but they also enjoy free training in technical and vocational fields. There's the morale aspect, too: Ask any commander, and they'll tell you they rather have a force of volunteer soldiers than anyone who's under compulsion to serve.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

How Chile Helped Britain Win the Falklands War

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, and Chile's role in the war also is being remembered. Kept secret for decades, Chile's assistance to Britain has come to light over the years, and it was extensive. The head of Chile's Air Force at the time, Gen. Fernando Matthei, was the principal figure. Mindful of Argentina's attempt to take three Chilean islands by force in 1978, Matthei was eager to help the British, and the Brits sought him out. Matthei, who had served as military attache in London, authorized a range of intelligence assistance. Radar tracking, electronic eavesdropping and other surveillance Chile conducted during the war gave Britain the eyes and ears it lacked otherwise. It was all monitored in an underground war room in the Punta Arenas area. All of this, of course, was done in utmost secrecy. Gen. Augusto Pinochet ordered Matthei to deal directly with the British officer in Chile, Wing Commander Sidney Edwards. That gave Pinochet and Chile's government some cover in case word leaked out. The Royal Air Force surreptitiously delivered a radar and other surveillance equipment to the south of Chile using RAF Hercules C-130 transport planes that were disguised with Chilean markings. Alas, the cover didn't work perfectly because the Spanish for "air force" was misspelled. When a radar had to be shut down for maintenance, the consequences were tragic: Argentine fighter-bombers were undetected as they attacked two British transports, destroying both. Eventually, the English rewarded Chile for its support, sending a batch of Hawker Hunter fighter planes, Canberra bombers, anti-aircraft missiles and radars.