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Volume 2, Number 15              May 19 - 25,  2002                     Quezon City, Philippines

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U.S. Congress Urged to Oversee Foreign Military Training

Inter Press Service, 17 May 2002

WASHINGTON--U.S. foreign military training programs are proliferating at an unprecedented rate and Congress must assert its watchdog role over them, a progressive think tank said Tuesday, May 14. 

The programs have become a key component of the U.S. administration's war on terrorism, said the 54-page report, 'U.S. Foreign Military Training: Global Reach, Global Power'. Congress' failure to ensure their adherence to basic human rights standards could result in the kinds of abuses which embarrassed the United States during the Cold War, when Washington trained some of the world's most brutal security forces, said the report, published by the Washington-based Foreign Policy in Focus. 

The administration intends to enroll officers from 130 countries next year in the State Department's International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, the report said. The department itself rates at least 51 of these countries having ''poor'' or ''very poor'' human rights records, it added. 

IMET is the best known and most easily monitored of scores of U.S. training programs. Others, particularly those run by the Pentagon's Special Operations Forces (SOF) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), will likely receive little or no Congressional oversight, the document said. 

Creating more terrorism ''In the war on terrorism, we risk creating more terrorism by arming despots and dictators much as we did during the Cold War,'' said Lora Lumpe, the report's author and an expert on arms transfers. 

SOF training missions specialize in counter-insurgency warfare and were deployed to more than 130 countries in 1999, the last year for which statistics are available. That marked a sharp increase from the 92 countries where SOF deployments took place just eight years before. 

With major new deployments of scores of SOF personnel to the Philippines, Georgia, and Yemen announced this year, the number of countries receiving SOF training has probably risen to around 150, Lumpe said. The overall SOF budget grew from 2.4 billion dollars in 1991 to 3.4 billion dollars in 1997. 

The George W. Bush administration, encouraged by the special forces' performance in the Afghan campaign, has asked Congress to approve 4.9 billion dollars for next year's operations, which are certain to include a large training component. Image make-over in Afghanistan ''SOF forces got an image make-over in Afghanistan,'' said Lumpe, ''but the reality remains that these forces employ and teach unconventional warfare tactics, including assassination, intimidation and black propaganda, as well as de-mining and other humanitarian operations.'' 

She pointed to one incident in late January where SOF troops attacked a school in Uruzgan, central Afghanistan, killing 19 men and taking 27 others prisoner. Several of the prisoners reported being tortured and beaten by SOF soldiers after their release two weeks later, when the Pentagon admitted that the raid had been a case of mistaken identity. 

The report attributes the past decade's growth of U.S. foreign military training to the collapse and fragmentation of the Soviet Union and then-President Bill Clinton's aversion to deploying U.S. troops overseas after a 1993 debacle in Somalia. By the end of Clinton's administration, U.S. regular and reserve military forces were training some 100,000 foreign troops and police in or from approximately 180 countries around the world each year, the report said. 

Training programs include everything from visits by small mobile training teams, to joint combined exercises, special training deployments and CIA programs for an undisclosed number of governments and insurgent forces. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Customs Service, and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) conduct courses for overseas security forces. 

In other cases, private U.S. firms staffed by retired U.S. military officers and operating with Washington's approval and encouragement have stepped up training of foreign security forces, particularly for governments that Congress otherwise would shun. Key component Since the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, however, military training has become a key component in Bush's war on terrorism. 

In March, the administration identified 19 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Latin America as allies in the fight against terrorism, signaling their eligibility for training programs. Of these, the State Department had cited 14 for serious human rights abuses. Under legislation passed in the mid-1970s, Congress outlawed aid to governments that had been accused of gross violations of human rights. 

The administration of President Ronald Reagan generally ignored this during the 1980s. In the 1990s, legislators insisted that military training programs like IMET and Expanded IMET, open to civilian personnel, include components on human rights and civilian control of the military. Except at two out of a total of 150 training schools, such efforts have tended to be marginalized. ''The aggregate of training offered by the U.S. to foreign personnel still relates primarily to fighting skills,'' the report said. 

In 1996, Congress passed the so-called Leahy Law, after its principal author, Senator Patrick Leahy. This required that all recipients of training in the State Department's counter-drug program be vetted for prior human rights abuses. Congress gradually expanded its application until it covered all State Department and Pentagon programs. But, said Lumpe, there is no assurance that background checks, where they have been applied, have been sufficiently rigorous. 

The report called for Congress to take a number of new initiatives to make it more difficult for the Pentagon to train abusive armies and police, including banning all covert intelligence training programs; banning all SOF training programs unless the Pentagon provides full disclosure about them on at least an annual basis; improving oversight of private military companies; and establishing a system to monitor the careers of foreign officers who receive advanced training.

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