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PolitiFact Florida on the U.S. Borrowing Military Helicopters, Trump's Racial Claim

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke at the Citadel on Nov. 18
AP Photo
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke at the Citadel on Nov. 18

Is the U.S. really borrowing helicopters to conduct NATO exercises in Europe? And what's with that tweet from Donald Trump saying most whites are killed by African-Americans? To get past the sound bites and discover the truth, WUSF checks in with the researchers from PolitiFact Florida.

The rhetoric from candidates for president has radiated outward since the attacks in Paris. Foreign policy has come front and center, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is burnishing his knowledge of events across the pond.

Recently, he said during a speech at the Citadel that American forces have been borrowing helicopters from our our NATO allies to conduct training exercises in Europe.

"Really? We don't have enough of our own military equipment, even for training purposes, so the Brits are spotting us choppers," Bush said. " That's just not unsafe - that's embarrassing for the greatest country on the face of the earth."

Bush says whatever challenges await us around the world, "we're not going to meet them on borrowed equipment."

Are we really borrowing helicopters? Here's PolitiFact Florida's findings:

Borrowed equipment

Military experts told PolitiFact that the decline in equipment and personnel dates back to the end of the Cold War, so it’s not entirely the fault of Obama and Republicans in Congress. However, the cuts have been stepped up over recent years as part of sequestration, the across-the-board spending cuts that went into effect in 2013 after Congress failed to reach a budget agreement.

A spokesman for the Bush campaign sent us two October 2015 news articles quoting Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the Army’s commanding general in Europe, talking about his equipment shortages.

As the number of U.S. military personnel in Europe has dropped 35 percent since 2012, the Army has reduced some equipment or relocated it, the New York Times reported. It’s possible for the Army to bring equipment to Europe from bases in the United States, but that is expensive and time consuming.

"I don’t have bridges, I don’t have the trucks that can carry tanks, we don’t have enough helicopters to do what we need to do," Hodges told the New York Times. "Practicing with British helicopters here is an essential part of it. Using British and German bridges, using Hungarian air defense is part of it."

A spokesman for the Army, Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, said Hodges has consistently said that his forces lack sufficient airplanes.

"Whether this is 'embarrassing' or simply a reality of Army force structure relative to global conditions is a matter of opinion," Buccino said.

He confirmed that the Army has been sharing equipment — as it did during a multinational exercise in Europe in August.

"This is not a new development," Buccino said. "Our forces often train with partnered militaries using host-nation equipment. In fact, training with NATO allies across platforms and equipment allows us to develop interoperability across the alliance, which would be crucial if we have to fight in the European theater."

The United States started scaling back in Europe about 25 years ago, a strategy "predicated on the notion of benign or at least non-hostile Russia," said Mark Cancian, a retired colonel with the Marines Reserve and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "What’s happened in the last two years has upset those assumptions, and everybody recognizes that."

Obama "gets a little credit" for trying to beef up the military in Europe, Cancian said. The Obama administration put together the European Reassurance Initiative, which includes $985 million for 2015 and requested $789 million in 2016.

Steve Saideman, a professor at Carleton University in Canada who recently wrote a book about NATO, said the whole idea of NATO exercises is to improve working together, so it makes sense that it would include riding in another nation’s airplanes. Plus, it can be cheaper than sending them in from overseas.

"I really don’t see the problem with this," Saideman told PolitiFact. "It is a way to grandstand on the issue, but it has no real substance. The larger issue facing the military is the unpredictability produced by sequestration, and Bush’s party represents half or more of the sequestration problem."

Lisa Samp, a Center for Strategic and International Studies fellow ,says that Bush’s statement sounds like a bit of semantics.

"If in a multinational training exercise we put U.S. soldiers on another nations’ troop transport vehicles or aircraft, are we ‘borrowing’ their equipment or simply conducting joint training?" said Samp, who served as director for NATO and European Strategic Affairs at the National Security Council from 2014-15.

Samp said that there is a disconnect between our stated commitment in Europe and the forces we have there.

"The good news in Europe is that we have allies to help fill gaps; this is not so much a sign of weakness (as Bush suggests) but of a working alliance," she said.

The decline of American forces in Europe is an outgrowth of the planned pivot to Asia, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

And as PolitiFact Florida has previously noted, the military is in the process of buying and upgrading all sorts of military equipment, including the largest aircraft procurement ever: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

One final note on China, which Bush said is increasing its military capability. The United States spent as much on the military in 2013 as the next eight countries combined, including China.

"Jeb Bush claims the United States military risks sliding to inferiority. Inferior to who exactly?" said Matthew Fay, a defense expert at the libertarian Niskanen Center. "By the best available estimates, the United States spent over $300 billion more than China and Russia combined in 2014."

Our ruling

Bush said, for NATO exercises "we don’t have enough of our own hardware and equipment even for training purposes. So the Brits are spotting us choppers."

The U.S. Army in Europe has used military equipment of allies as part of NATO obligations.

However, Bush omits that the U.S. military has been cutting back in Europe since the Cold War, so cuts over eight years are nothing new. Experts say the equipment sharing isn’t as problematic as Bush makes it seem because the military is working with allies as part of NATO.

With those caveats, we rate this claim Mostly True.

Next up, a comment from part-time Floridian Donald Trump. The day after a black activist was kicked and punched by people attending a Trump rally in Alabama, Trump tweeted an image packed with racially loaded murder statistics.

The image shows a masked, dark-skinned man with a handgun and a set of points. One of the most contested points was a line saying "Whites killed by blacks -- 81 percent".

Several of those statistics are way off the mark, according to PolitiFact Florida:

Interracial homicides

While the image references 2015, the year is not over, and no official numbers have been released. The latest data comes from the FBI for 2014. This table contrasts Trump’s figures with the official ones:

The most glaring inaccuracies have to do with white homicide victims. Trump cast blacks as the primary killers of whites, but the exact opposite is true. By overwhelming percentages, whites tend to kill other whites. Similarly, blacks tend to kill other blacks. These trends have been observed for decades.

Parenthetically, the website Little Green Footballs traced the original image back to a Twitter stream that appears to originate in the United Kingdom and features a modified swatiska with the line "Should have listened to the Austrian chap with the little moustache."

Our ruling

Trump tweeted an image that made various statistical claims, including that blacks kill 81 percent of white homicide victims. Almost every number in the image is wrong. The statistics on white victims are exaggerated five-fold. The police-related deaths are off as well.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.


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Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.