Warships part of U.S. contingency plan for Sochi Olympics
(CNN) — The U.S. military will have up to two warships and several transport aircraft on standby under a contingency plan to help evacuate American officials and athletes from the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, if ordered, a U.S. official said.
The State Department would take the lead in organizing and evacuating Americans, if necessary, the official with direct knowledge of the plan told CNN.
Moscow would have to ask for such assistance before the United States would act, the official said.
But planes and ships are clearly there “if something happens like a major terrorist attack and we need to get Americans out,” the official said.
An online video surfaced on a Jihadi forum on Sunday threatening the 17-day Winter Games beginning February 7 at the Black Sea resort town.
This followed deadly bombings in the southern city of Volgograd recently that raised concerns over Olympic security. Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, is a major transit hub for travel to Sochi.
Moreover, there has been recent violence in the southern republic of Dagestan — the latest unrest linked to a long-running Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged that the games, like any high-profile event, would be a target for terrorists.
But, he said that Russia has a “perfect understanding” of the threat and how to stop it.
U.S. contingency planning calls for warships to launch helicopters to Sochi from the Black Sea. C-17 transport aircraft would be on standby in Germany and could be on the scene in about two hours.
Other aircraft contracted to the State Department would also play a role in any emergency.
Two key U.S. lawmakers on security matters expressed concern on Sunday about the security situation in Sochi.
Sen. Angus King of Maine, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he wouldn’t go to the games himself, “and I don’t think I would send my family.”
Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also called on the Russian government to be more cooperative with the United States on intelligence sharing ahead of the games.
“Their level of concern is great, but we don’t seem to be getting all of the information we need to protect our athletes in the Games. I think this needs to change, and it should change soon,” Rogers said.
When asked whether he thought Americans would be safe at the Games, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden said he trusts Russia’s ability to provide security.
“I think Americans will be quite safe,” he said.
Access to Sochi is under heavy restriction ahead of the games and Putin said Sunday in an interview with half a dozen Russian and international broadcasters that about 40,000 members of Russia’s police and security forces would be guarding events.
Security analysts have warned that terrorists targeting the games may try to strike elsewhere in Russia during the Olympics.
By Barbara Starr