Global Policy Forum

US Overseas Military Training Grows Out of Sight


By Jim Lobe

OneWorld US
January 31, 2002


  • Read the Foreign Policy in Focus Report; "US Military Training: Global Reach, Global Power"

    The United States is forging new ties with foreign militaries, primarily through new training programs which are expanding at a blistering pace with little or no congressional oversight as part of President George W. Bush's "war on terrorism," according to a new report by the think-tank Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF).

    Since the September 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the administration has reportedly offered counter-terrorism assistance, including training, to a growing list of countries, including Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Ethiopia, and Yemen. According to Amnesty International's latest global survey, many of these recipients have recently committed widespread and serious human rights abuses.

    In just the last two months, Congress--acting without debate on a last-minute administration request--created a new, US$18 million regional counter-terrorism program apparently designed to get around existing human rights curbs on training Indonesia's armed forces, while the Pentagon began deploying some 650 U.S. troops to the southern Philippines to "train" and advise Filipino soldiers fighting a small Muslim rebel force.

    "Given the pace at which military-to-military relations are being established and ratcheted up in the name of fighting terrorism," said the author of the FPIF report, Lora Lumpe, "it is vital that Congress, the media, and the public reflect on the potential dangers of these commitments. If we arm and train abusive forces in the name of fighting terrorism, we are likely to foster, rather than hinder, terrorism."

    Some 100,000 foreign police and military forces from more than 150 countries now receive training from U.S. forces or their private contractors both within the United States and overseas, according to the 27-page report, 'U.S. Foreign Military Training: Global Reach, Global Power.'

    And while such programs could, if properly carried out, play a positive role in building a more peaceful world and promoting compliance with international human rights standards, there is little evidence that those purposes are central to most of the training which is being provided, according to the report.

    In addition, the Bush administration appears to be taking steps to make congressional and public oversight of these programs more difficult. It tried last year to kill a congressionally-mandated annual report on military training programs and the deployments of U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) on training exercises with foreign militaries.

    During the Cold War, training programs were designed to forge close ties with foreign military establishments and teach counter-insurgency techniques to their officers.

    After disclosures of serious human rights abuses committed by many of the same militaries, including by specific officers who received U.S. training, Congress moved in the 1990s to require that at least some of the better known programs--such as the since-renamed School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia--include courses on human rights and the role of the military in democratic, civilian-led governments.

    In addition, Congress approved the so-called "Leahy Law," named after Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. It required that recipients of U.S. State Department- and Pentagon-funded military training be vetted in advance to weed out those officers who are believed to have committed abuses in the past.

    At the same time, it increased funding for the largest program, International Military Education Training, more than three-fold - from US$22 million in 1994, to US$70 million for the current year.

    However, not only have well-interntioned congressional reforms so far failed to put human rights concerns "at the core of any of the relationships between U.S. and foreign militaries," but the great majority of trainees still receive no instruction in human rights or the international law of war, according to the report, which called for the Leahy Law to be expanded to cover programs run by the Justice Department.

    SOF units--which have gained widespread publicity for their role in the war against the Taliban and the al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan--also steadily increased the frequency and range of their exercises with foreign forces during the past decade from 92 countries in 1991 to 152 countries in 1999, the last year for which records were available.

    The units have conducted exercises with a number of foreign militaries that were actively engaged in bloody counter-insurgency operations or the suppression of pro-democracy movements at the time the training was provided. Examples include Colombia, the Philippines, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Kenya, and Egypt.

    In the war against terrorism, similar, and largely secret, programs in Central Asian authoritarian countries--including Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan--are reportedly being expanded.

    "The U.S. worldwide anti-terrorism campaign seems to have replaced the post-cold war rhetorical concern for human rights and democratization with an 'ends justify the means' attitude," according to the report.


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