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In a first, U.S. talks about joint training with Cuban army

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — About 150 U.S. and Cuban troops worked side by side last week, testing collaboration across a minefield that has long divided the Cold War adversaries.

A Cuban Army helicopter flew over this Navy base and dropped 500 gallons of saltwater on burning plywood to extinguish a simulated raging wildfire. American sailors crossed into Cuban-controlled turf to set up a mock triage center run by both nations' militaries, should catastrophe strike.

Nearly anywhere else, the event would have been a run-of-the-mill training exercise. And although U.S. forces at this remote base have engaged in the annual rite with the Cuban Frontier Brigade for more than a decade, the Bush administration forbade the disclosure of information. The Southern Command usually answered questions about the time, date or operation scenarios with "no comment."

This time, the U.S. military struck a different tone. It provided details but refused to let journalists already on the base for war-court hearings observe the ''mass casualty exercise.'' Sailors photographed the event but were forbidden to release the images, said U.S. Navy base spokesman Terence R. Peck.

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