Austere Challenge 12 is still set to go forward in October, but with less than one-third the number of U.S. troops and fewer anti-missile systems, according to Time:
Instead of the approximately 5,000 U.S. troops originally trumpeted for Austere Challenge 12…the Pentagon will send only 1,500 service members, and perhaps as few as 1,200. Patriot anti-missile systems will arrive in Israel as planned, but the crews to operate them will not. Instead of two Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense warships being dispatched to Israeli waters, the new plan is to send one, though even the remaining vessel is listed as a “maybe,” according to officials in both militaries.
“Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you,’” a unnamed senior Israeli military official told Time.
But a Pentagon spokesman pushed back against the report, both that the scope of the exercise had changed or that it was a sign of U.S. mistrust.
“Austere Challenge-12 remains the largest-ever ballistic missile defense exercise between our nations and a significant increase from the previous event in 2009,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jack Miller told Reuters. “The exercise has not changed in scope and will include the same types of systems as planned. All deployed systems will be fully operational with associated operators.”
A U.S official declined to say how many troops would be participating in the drill, but told Reuters the number was larger than Time reported. An Israeli defense official also said the exercise “will be held on a similar scale as when it was last held, two years ago.”
The exercise as scheduled will take place a month before the U.S. presidential election. Israel has been a contentious campaign issue amid reports the Obama administration has been pressuring the Jewish state to hold off on striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, while Republican nominee Mitt Romney has emphasized Israel’s “right to defend itself.”