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A Dirty Little Secret: The U.S. Army 'Invented' 5 Fake Countries

It goes without saying that combat training should be as realistic as possible. But realism has its downside. The U.S. Army, for one, wants to be able to prepare to for war against particular countries without announcing to the whole world what it’s doing.

Thus, the American ground-combat branch invents fictional countries as stand-ins for very real potential enemies.

As of April 2015, the Army had constructed five different made-up states — complete with elaborate back-stories — for its soldiers to defend, invade, occupy and rebuild during high-intensity war games at U.S. training ranges.

The fictional countries of Ariana, Atropia, Donovia, Gorgas and Limaria are clustered in a fictional Caucasian landscape that stretches between the real-world borders of Russia and Iran. Together, the five states comprise the so-called “Decisive Action Training Environment,” or DATE.

There’s a master DATE handbook. “Exercise planners should use this document for all exercise and scenario design requirements,” the introduction to the latest edition of the handbook explains. “The DATE was developed and designed to allow for flexibility and creativity in its application.”

War Is Boring obtained the latest copy of this document—version 2.2 , dated April 2015— via the Freedom of Information Act. Reading in many instances like the rule book for a tabletop war game that you might play at home, the manual gives Army officials the tools to build almost any imaginable kind of pretend conflict.

Each country has detailed political structures, economic considerations, troop types, military equipment and other features that would impact how American soldiers might operate in it during a shooting war. A central story-line links their narratives together in a common, imaginary world.

While not officially modeled on any particular real countries, the DATE clearly reflects real-world states and events.

The use of mock groups for training is hardly new in the Army. After World War II, the ground combat branch cooked up the “Circle Trigonists,” who first represented facists and then morphed into communists.

However, with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, monolithic communism no longer reflected threats that the Army believed it was likely to face. Peacekeeping missions in places such as Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo underscored that change. The ground combat branch assumed that ethnic and religious insurgencies represented the future of war.

Editions of the DATE prior to the current one were limited in their fictional geographic scope. But then came Al Qaeda’s attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11, 2001 and the subsequent U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Iran’s increasing belligerence and Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region further compelled the Army to expand the DATE’s made-up world in order to accommodate a wider range of simulated conflicts. Version 2.2 of the DATE expands the boundaries of the fictionalized geography to incorporate more of Russia and all of Iran.

Ariana — clearly filling in for Iran — is a theocracy ruled by a clerical caste. “A brutally efficient military ensures the continuation of the current power structure,” the guide explains. “A sham representative government appeases or distracts Western interests.”

Atropia and Limaria substitute for Azerbaijan and Armenia, respectively. The Army describes the first as a “classic dictatorship” and the second simply as an “autocracy.”

In Atropia, “every national success or failure reflects directly on the ruling family,” the handbook says — a clear reference to Heydar Aliyev, who governed the province of Azerbaijan under Soviet rule between 1969 and 1982, and then, in 1993, became the third president of independentAzerbaijan.

After Aliyev’s death in 2003, his son Ilham won an election that international observers decried as neither free nor fair. In power ever since, Ilham’s regime refers to Heydar as “father of the Azeri nation” and has reinforced the previous leader’s cult of personality.

Then there’s Limaria. Its “key political goal is the survival and advancement of the Limarian ethnicity,” according to the DATE. “Any argument for action between Limarians can be won by the side offering better protection for the local and diaspora population.”

No clearer reference could be made to Armenia and the national sentiment of Armenians the world over. Much to the dismay of Turkish authorities, Armenians understandably and regularly petition foreign governments and organizations to recognize the genocide that occurred between 1915 and 1917, when suspicious Turkish authorities orchestrated the deaths of up to two million Armenians.

To this day, Ankara disputes this number and refuses to describe the events as systematic genocide.

Atropia and Limaria don’t get along in the Army’s war-gaming universe, either. The two countries are locked in conflict over a region called “Lower Janga,” with each supporting various militant factions such as the Free Lower Janga Movement and the Limarian Liberation Front.

Back in the real world, since 1988 the Armenians and Azeris have fought a prolonged but sporadic skirmish over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. In April 2016, factions in the area clashed, leading to what some observers described as a “four-day war.”