US military

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Mon Jul 13 11:35:29 PDT 1998

[this from Tom Kruse bounced - it's broken into two parts because of length]

Date: Mon, 13 Jul 1998 13:02:12 -0400 To: lbo-talk at From: Thomas Kruse <tkruse at> Subject: US military might 1 Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit X-MIME-Autoconverted: from quoted-printable to 8bit by id NAA24496

Dear Talkers:

I'm off the list owing to work crunches, but can't pass up the urge to share this bit from the Washington Post. The authors clearly demonstrate how the US military is the a key point-agency for US foreign policy. This is chilling stuff; imperialist desing pretty plain and simple, just like in the good old days. Enjoy, and get pissed!



Free of Oversight, U.S. Military Trains Foreign Troops 1991 Law Waives Many Restrictions on Aid; Policies Don't Stop Military Exchange By Dana Priest, Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, July 12, 1998; Page A01

On the day before Pakistan exploded five underground nuclear bombs in May, while President Clinton was urgently warning leaders in Islamabad that an atomic test would bring worldwide isolation, the U.S. military was quietly pursuing its own agenda just outside the Pakistani capital.

At the Army general command at Rawalpindi, officers from both countries finished plans to bring together 60 American and 200 Pakistani special operations forces for small unit exercises outside Peshawar near Afghanistan and for scuba attacks on mock targets in Mangla Lake, on the edge of the contested mountain region of Kashmir.

"Inspired Venture," as the exercise is called, is still scheduled for August, despite U.S. sanctions imposed in retaliation for the nuclear blasts. Since 1993, similar ventures between the U.S. and Pakistani militaries have also sidestepped earlier sanctions by Washington designed to punish the country for its nuclear program.

The Pakistani case is not unique. Under a 1991 law exempting them from many congressional and White House restrictions, American special operations forces have established military ties in at least 110 countries, unencumbered by public debate, effective civilian oversight or the consistent involvement of senior U.S. foreign affairs officials.

The law, Section 2011 of Title 10 of the U.S. code, allows the military to send special operations forces on overseas exercises on the condition that the primary purpose is to train U.S. soldiers. Some exercises comply unambiguously with the letter of the law. But a review of scores of missions found that many more have been used routinely for broader aims, including helping foreign armies fight drug traffickers, teaching counterinsurgency techniques in countries concerned about domestic stability and sharing U.S. military expertise in exchange for access to top foreign officials.

As such missions have multiplied since the end of the Cold War, special operations forces, including Army Green Berets, Navy SEALS and Air Force special operations airmen, have become a leading force in exerting U.S. influence abroad. Without firing a shot in anger, they are revising the rules of U.S. engagement with scores of foreign countries.

In the process, military officials questioned about the exercises said, they are becoming familiar with nations where they might one day return to evacuate U.S. citizens -- as they have done recently in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Albania -- deliver humanitarian supplies or fight a war. The officials said U.S. forces also pass on their values of respect for human rights, civilian leadership and the need for a nation's military to maintain a professional, apolitical role in society.

Above all, the officials described the exercises, known as Joint Combined Exchange Training, or JCETs, as an indispensable part of the key post-Cold War mission of engaging militaries abroad.

"I'd rather talk to people than hit them with sanctions. [Special operations forces] are the greatest asset we have. They are a force multiplier and a diplomacy multiplier," said H. Allen Holmes, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.

To determine the scope and content of the JCET missions worldwide, The Washington Post pieced together information based on interviews and reports from the Defense Department, the special operations staffs and units at the United States' five regional warfighting commands, as well as several of the Army and Navy units involved in creating the exercises and training foreign troops from Cambodia to Kazakhstan.

Interviews with dozens of U.S. officers and troops around the world revealed widely inconsistent interpretations of the purpose and even the definition of JCETs. According to military officers involved in the program and Defense Department documents, effective civilian oversight and coordination with the State Department or National Security Council is minimal to nonexistent, a view disputed by Holmes. And, although U.S. ambassadors in countries where they take place are responsible for approving and supervising JCETs, officers and troops said that in many countries the U.S. military group at the embassy or the regional commander in chief, known as the CINC, dominate the process, deciding where to go and, more importantly, what kind of training to conduct.

As a result, JCETs often appear to bring America's premier soldiers into conflict with aims of American diplomacy enunciated in Washington.

For example:

The Clinton administration has enforced a near-total ban on the supply and sale of U.S. military equipment and training for the Colombian military because of its deep involvement in drug-related corruption and its record of killing politicians, human rights activists and civilians living in areas controlled by guerrilla groups. The restrictions have permitted limited training in specific areas controlled by drug traffickers, but require that Colombian units first be evaluated for human rights performance before receiving U.S. assistance.

However, U.S. special operations forces, unbeknownst to many in Congress who fought for the original restrictions, are legally free of these restraints and have trained hundreds of Colombian troops in "shoot and maneuver" techniques, counterterrorism and intelligence gathering. The special forces training proceeded even in 1996 and 1997, when Clinton "decertified" Colombia for military assistance because of its failure to cooperate with U.S. anti-narcotics policy.

In on-the-record interviews, several officers with longtime experience in Colombia said the human rights records of the Colombian units trained by special forces in these exercises are not evaluated because it would interfere with the unit's ability to work together. Asked about the training, Defense officials initially said -- correctly -- that they are not legally required to vet the units. In subsequent interviews, however, they said such vetting does take place.

In Indonesia, special operations forces have conducted 41 training exercises since 1991, despite a congressional ban on training Indonesia's officers in the United States and a checkered human rights record. Most of the exercises involved Indonesia's elite Kopassus troops, whom U.S. officials have accused of involvement in kidnappings and torture of anti-government activists.

U.S. officers involved in the training maintained in recent interviews that they were prohibited from teaching Indonesians lethal tactics. In fact, no such restrictions exist. According to interviews and documents, lethal tactics are a regular part of the exercises, which have included instruction in sniper techniques, close-quarters combat, demolition, mortar attacks and air and sea assaults.

The State Department's annual human rights report this year said the military in Papua New Guinea had "committed extrajudicial killings, were responsible for disappearances, abused prisoners and detainees, and employed harsh enforcement measures against civilians," much of the abuse related to suppression of a 10-year-old insurgency that has cost 20,000 lives. A separate State Department report to Congress said that to encourage reform of the country's armed forces, officers would receive U.S.-based training "with an emphasis on human rights, civilian control of the military, and military justice."

The report did not mention that once or twice a year, in an exercise dubbed "Balance Passion," U.S. special operations forces provide instruction to local troops in demolition, patrolling and communications as well as in internal defense tactics and field medicine. In return, according to U.S. officials, American troops have learned about the country's culture and landscape and the tactics of the Papua New Guinea armed forces.

In Turkey, repression against Kurdish villagers has raised opposition in Congress and the State Department to the sale of attack helicopters to the military. In 1996, the State Department documented the use of U.S.-supplied equipment to kill and force the evacuation of civilians in disputed areas of southeastern Turkey, where a conflict with Kurdish Workers Party guerrillas has claimed 22,000 lives.

However, the U.S. European Command's special operations branch last year conducted its first training exercise with the Turkish Mountain Commandos, a unit whose chief function is to fight Kurdish guerrillas. The purpose of the exercises, according to a U.S. after-action report, was "to ascertain the future training needs of the Turks and to establish the groundwork" for future bilateral exercises with the unit. The document advised American participants in future such missions to "be prepared to get no [tactical] training value from the exercise."

In 1993, the U.S. ambassador to Equatorial Guinea was expelled after criticizing the government for human rights abuses. This spring, Amnesty International issued an urgent appeal against torture and illegal detentions of dozens of ethnic Bubi by the military forces. In April, Timothy F. Geithner, an assistant Treasury Department secretary, told Congress that the tiny African country was one of only five nations where Washington would oppose lending by the International Monetary Fund because of Equatorial Guinea's gross human rights violations.

But the 3rd Special Forces Group based at Fort Bragg, N.C., continues to train scores of local troops in Equatorial Guinea in light infantry skills, including operations planning, small unit tactics, land navigation, reconnaissance and medicine. Although such exercises are supposed to be coordinated through the U.S. Embassy, the embassy in Equatorial Guinea has been closed for budgetary reasons since 1995.

In Suriname, king-making former military leader Desi Bouterse is wanted on an international warrant for drug trafficking and money laundering. The chief of military police, Col. Etienne Boerenveen, served five years in a Miami jail for drug running. In the words of Jack A. Blum, the former chief investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on narcotics, the South American country has become "a criminal enterprise."

Nevertheless, a team from the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg has conducted light infantry training and noncommissioned officer leadership classes with dozens of members of Suriname's armed forces as recently as March. Army Special Forces troops first described the deployments as a one-time "security survey" for embassy personnel.

In an interview, Holmes insisted that these missions, like all those authorized by Section 2011, were principally meant to train U.S. troops. Asked whether he believed all deployments fit the letter of the law, he said, "Absolutely, 100 percent. . . . Every single deployment is for the purpose, first and foremost . . . to train special operations forces."

Despite its policy implications, the JCET program has drawn little discernible attention from senior foreign policy officials in Washington. White House national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, whose National Security Council coordinates diplomatic and military policy for the president, said in an interview that he was not familiar with the program's details and asked for time to study the question. Later, an aide said Berger would not answer questions about the program and referred inquiries to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

Cohen, a former U.S. senator whose keen interest in special operations dates back two decades, signs deployment orders for most JCETs. However, he declined requests for an interview repeated over several weeks. Instead, he issued a one-paragraph statement through his staff.

"JCETs are the backbone of training for Special Operations Forces, preparing them to operate throughout the world," Cohen's statement said. "In those areas where our forces conduct JCETs, they encourage democratic values and regional stability. In the future, we can expect our forces to confront threats posed by an increasingly diverse set of actors, placing a premium on the skills our forces developed in JCETs."

Critics challenge whether the Pentagon is monitoring the program closely enough to reach that conclusion.

"Due to feckless leadership in the civilian oversight office, we don't have a handle on how the CINCs spend that [JCET] money," said Timothy Connolly, a former special operations officer who was the principal deputy in the Pentagon office supervising special operations from 1993 to 1996, when he was fired after an unrelated policy dispute. "We have no idea what their objectives are, what the units involved are. . . . The definition of [the] training is extremely elastic depending upon the wishes of the decision-makers."

Quiet Professionals

The JCET program was born at the end of the Cold War, when the United States suddenly had the opportunity to open new military relationships with dozens of former Soviet- or non-aligned countries. At the same time, the central perceived military threat to U.S. security shifted away from a Soviet-U.S. confrontation to instability and regional ethnic and religious conflicts.

For military leaders, special operations forces seemed ideal for these new missions. Heralded as "the point of the spear" in unconventional warfighting since World War II and throughout the Cold War, special operations forces, often in partnership with the CIA, had led covert operations against communist-backed insurgencies in Vietnam, Laos, Latin America and Africa. During the civil war in El Salvador, advisers from Army Special Forces played a key role in helping the government beat back a leftist guerrilla movement.

Special operations forces are designed to operate in small groups for long periods behind enemy lines, or to live and work amid a foreign population -- as they are doing today in Bosnia. They pride themselves as "the quiet professionals." Rigorous training, proficiency in foreign languages and political acumen give them a self-sufficiency and versatility in countries where a larger U.S. presence might create controversy both locally and in the United States.

In 1987, the military inaugurated an independent command to consolidate special operations forces -- Army Green Berets, Rangers and the covert Delta Force; Navy SEALS, Special Boat Units and the covert Team 6; and Air Force special operations and internal defense squadrons. The move was sponsored by then-senator Cohen (R-Maine) and his colleague on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who felt these elite warriors had been neglected.

Just as a civilian secretary is appointed to supervise the Army and the other service branches, the assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (SOLIC) is responsible for overseeing the Tampa-based U.S. Special Operations Command. Devising rules for the new command, Pentagon lawyers determined that "it was unclear" whether the command was authorized to spend money to send its troops on overseas training missions, as the individual regional commanders and the Army and Navy had done for years.

Their solution was Section 2011, an amendment of Title 10 of the U.S. code, which lays out the guidelines for decision-making, money-spending and troop deployment for the military. The amendment gave commanders of special operations forces the authority to deploy and pay for training of U.S. and foreign troops if "the primary purpose of the training . . . shall be to train the special operations forces of the combatant command."

The law also allows the commander to finance part of the foreign country's participation in the training by buying food, fuel and ammunition during the exercise. But the overall budget for JCETs remains minuscule by Pentagon standards -- $15.2 million for fiscal 1997 -- in part because it excludes transportation, usually the single largest expense.

Section 2011 created a critical loophole. In most cases, the House and Senate foreign affairs committees preside over how the government spends money overseas, including foreign aid, arms sales, the deployment of "mobile training teams" and the training of foreign military officers in the United States. The committees, which monitor the overall conduct of U.S. foreign policy in addition to appropriating the money and authorizing its expenditure, are the sources of restrictions on U.S. aid to many countries -- restrictions that ban U.S. military cooperation or impose economic sanctions in response to human rights abuses, support for terrorism or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

However, to preserve the autonomy of special operations forces, Section 2011 comes under the jurisdiction of the House and Senate defense committees, where the same restrictions do not apply and expenditures are authorized through different channels, and where members are traditionally more sympathetic to Pentagon programs. As a result, regional military commanders and U.S. ambassadors enjoy wide independence in directing special forces training missions, including in countries otherwise subjected to restrictions.

"It was groundbreaking," said James A. Locher III, who helped craft the legislation as a Senate staff member and later headed the SOLIC office in the Bush administration. "It has permitted us to go to a lot of different places, to improve our relationships with a lot of different countries. . . . We had foreseen that special operations forces were going to become increasingly important because of their skills and the types of threats we would face, that they would be the forces of choice by the CINCs and ambassadors."

The law has helped fuel a bonanza for special operations forces. Not only have they escaped the military downsizing of the 1990s, they now have a larger force -- 47,000 people -- than at any time in their history. Their diverse skills and flexibility have made them a model for other troops dispatched around the globe during a decade dominated by nontraditional missions involving peacekeeping, drug interdiction and humanitarian crises, from Bosnia to Haiti to Somalia.

The increasing importance of special operations forces in the field has coincided with the decline in civilian foreign aid and U.S. diplomatic presence in some regions and the military's withdrawal from many permanent overseas bases. Increasingly, American soldiers have taken on jobs that once belonged almost exclusively to civilian diplomats, spreading U.S. influence, discreetly forging new alliances and cultivating contacts among foreign leaders.

"Our CINCs are being told they have to shape the environment and we're well suited for that," said Brig. Gen. John Scales, until this summer deputy commander of the U.S. Army's Special Forces Command.

JCETs still provide a way to train U.S. troops. For example, the 1st Special Forces Group based in Okinawa, Japan, accommodates Japanese political sensitivities by practicing parachuting in Thailand. Reluctance by U.S. cities to allow training in urban warfare tactics has led to JCETs in Singapore, Lithuania and India. Since the art of jungle tracking has been all but lost among U.S. forces, they now train in Malaysia or the upper jungles of Irian Jaya in Indonesia. When the Air Force's 352nd Special Operations Group, based in England, has needed to practice flying low and without lights at night, they have gone to mountainous Morocco.

But most of the training exercises made possible by Section 2011 appear to have more ambitious goals, with implications across a broad range of U.S. foreign policy.

In once communist or Soviet-aligned countries such as Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Mongolia, Russia and Uzbekistan, JCETs have been used as ice-breaking "first dates" with former adversaries. Plans are in the works for the first such exercises involving U.S. and Chinese troops next year.

In the Persian Gulf, when the Pentagon wanted to beef up ground troops without attracting attention during the confrontation with Iraq earlier this year, it nearly doubled the number of special operations forces participating in "Iris Gold," a nearly continuous JCET in Kuwait. The 234 U.S. troops then became part of the planned operation against Iraq.

In Laos, Cambodia, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Chad -- where the United States was perceived as either a hostile or aloof power during the Cold War -- special operations forces have given courses on the relatively neutral subject of removing land mines. Because the troops are forbidden by law from actually removing mines, they may be less helpful to the host countries than civilian technicians. But the exercises are valued as a foot in the door for more traditional military alliances with countries still skittish about U.S. ties, according to U.S. officials.

"There is definitely a political card played with these JCETs," said Wayne A. Downing, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command from 1993 to 1996. "They are a direct instrument of U.S. foreign policy. They may be the most direct and most involved, tangible, physical part of U.S. foreign policy in certain countries."

[end part 1]

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