HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html US Begins Air Patrols On Alberta Border
Pubdate: Wed, 18 Oct 2006
Source: Vue Weekly (CN AB)
Copyright: 2006, Vue Weekly.
Author: Ross Moroz


The "longest undefended border in the world" is becoming anything but.

Jets and helicopters began continuous patrols of the airspace above 
the Montana-Alberta border starting on Mon, Oct 16, coinciding with 
the opening of the Great Falls Air Branch at the airport in Great 
Falls, Montana by the US Customs and Border Protection, part of the 
US Department of Homeland Security.

The base is the third of five air patrol centres planned for the 
US-Canada border. Detachments are already up and running in 
Bellingham, Washington and Plattsburg, New York; bases in Detroit, 
Michigan and Grand Forks, North Dakota will open next year.

Up to 52 personnel, including federal law enforcement officers, 
pilots and aircrew, will be continuously deployed at the Great Falls 
Air Branch. The base also boasts two Blackhawk helicopters, two 
inceptor jets and one surveillance aircraft, although unmanned 
surveillance drones could be added before the end of this year. The 
state's politicians were quick to laud the initiative. "We've worked 
hard to bring the Air Wing to Great Falls, working with the federal 
government to bring the assets to the airport, bringing these jobs to 
this community, and improving our northern border security against 
terrorists, immigration and narcotics," enthused Republican Senator 
Conrad Burns in a press release. "Today's event is an opportunity for 
Great Falls to see how our efforts have paid off."

Critics of the plan accuse the Americans of overstating Canada's 
perceived status as a "haven" for terrorists as an excuse to ramp up 
patrols along the border simply in the hopes of reducing the massive 
amount of Canadian marijuana being smuggled into the US. American 
officials reject this charge, insisting that their efforts are 
primarily targeted at preventing terrorism, although Republican 
Congressman Dennis Rehberg admits that the beefed-up security will 
also crack down on "illegal activity" in the area.

"The Great Falls Air Wing is positioned to be an integral part in 
securing the northern border," said Congressmen Rehberg in the same 
release. "Ensuring Montana's residents and infrastructure are as safe 
as they can be from terrorist attack is obviously a top priority of 
mine and the Air Wing will help us meet that goal."

The Americans also reject the idea that they are violating the spirit 
of having an "undefended" border.

"We are not militarizing the country," insisted Customs and Border 
Patrol Air and Marine assistant commissioner Michael Kostelnik. "We 
would be concerned with somebody coming through Canada and crossing 
the border undetected with a weapon of mass destruction."
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