Havana: Cuba began its biggest military manoeuvres in five years on Thursday, saying they were needed to prepare for a possible invasion by the United States.
Despite a thaw in US-Cuba relations and assurances last week by President Barack Obama that the United States has no intention of invading the island 90 miles from Florida, Cuba`s state-run press quoted military leaders as saying there "exists a real possibility of a military aggression against Cuba”.
The war games, which are being called "Bastion 2009”, also will get the military ready to deal with social unrest the United States may try to foment in this time of economic crisis in Cuba, ahead of an invasion, they said.
Cuban television showed images of tanks firing their guns as they rolled through the countryside, artillery batteries blasting away, camouflaged troops digging trenches and shooting bazookas, attack helicopters and fighter jets buzzing through the sky and rescue teams tending wounded combatants.
It was not clear if the images came from Thursday`s manoeuvres or from file footage of previous activities, nor were the sites of the war games disclosed.
Tanks and anti-aircraft guns were seen on trains outside of Havana on Thursday being prepared for transport to an unknown destination.
In the evening news broadcast, President Raul Castro was shown urging Cubans to fight until they have vanquished the enemy.
"The objective is to never surrender, to never stop fighting," he said in a meeting with military leaders.
"Fight and fight until we exhaust the enemy and defeat it," said Castro, who was Cuba`s defence minister before succeeding his ailing brother Fidel Castro as president last year.
The manoeuvres, which end on Saturday and will involve 100,000 soldiers and reservists, are taking place at a time when relations between the United States and Cuba have warmed under Obama after five decades of hostility.
He has slightly eased the 47-year-old US trade embargo against the communist-led island and initiated talks on migration and postal service, but based further progress on Cuba releasing political prisoners and improving rights.
President Castro has said Cuba is open to better relations, but will make no unilateral concessions to the United States.
In a written response to questions from Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez last week, Obama said, "The United States has no intention of using military force in Cuba."