Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 2 Number 5 March 10 - 16, 2002 Quezon City, Philippines
Special Operations Military Training Abroad and Its Dangers
by John Rudy and Ivan Eland
Foreign Policy Briefing
one of the most dramatic shifts in U.S. defense policy since the Cold War, the
the program has received justified criticism for the human rights violations of
the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military’s long-standing mission of
containing the forces of communism in a highly structured and partitioned world
vanished. The last nine years have been spent searching for a new justification
for the existence of a worldwide military committed to the defense of far-flung
interests and allies. The new post–Cold War national defense strategy reflects
the ambiguous present mission of the armed services: “Shape the international
environment, respond to the full spectrum of crises, and prepare now for an
uncertain future.” 1
that rhetoric is characteristically vague, what the new operational philosophy
strategically important military-to-military connections are being made through
a convoluted mix of military training programs, counter-narcotics programs,
in 1986, the Special Operations Command Act established a unified command for
all U.S. special operations, including the Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Army
Special Forces, and Air Force special operations airmen. A Theatre Special
Operations Command exists as a subcommand of each Regional Unified Military
Command in the world and provides each geographic commander in chief (CINC) with
expertise on special forces and operational control of SOF. According to Brig.
Gen. John Scales, former deputy commander of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces
Command, “Our CINCs are being told they have to shape the environment and [SOF
are] well suited for that.” 2
new value placed on SOF capabilities is reflected in an overall greater use of
them. In fiscal year 1991 SOF were deployed to 92 countries; by FY97 SOF
deployments had expanded to 143 countries. The personnel and budget of the SOF
have also grown from 38,000 people and $2.4 billion in 1991 to 47,000 people and
$3.4 billion today. 3
Pentagon was “unclear” about whether it was legal for the U.S.-based Special
Operations Command, assigned the principal function of preparing and training
such forces, to pay for the overseas deployment of SOF for training missions.
in 1991 Congress enacted sec. 2011 of title 10 of the U.S. Code—hereafter
referred to as the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) law. The statute
provided the commander of the Special Operations Command with broad authority to
pay the deployment and training costs of SOF training abroad with foreign
security forces. (The law also allowed the commander to pay “incremental
expenses”—such as those of rations, fuel, ammunition, and
transportation—of the host country if that nation was unable to pay them.) The
authority to conduct such overseas training missions was limited only by the
condition that the primary purpose of the missions be the training of U.S. SOF.
There was also a requirement that the Defense Department submit an annual report
on the previous year’s training operations.
that broad mandate, Special Operations Command created the JCET program, which
has become the format of choice for SOF exercises with foreign militaries. JCET
involves small deployments of special operations personnel—sometimes fewer
than a dozen troops—that conduct exercises jointly with foreign security
forces to train the participants in a variety of areas that “sharpen critical
SOF mission essential task list . . . skills and enhance host-nation skills.”
training activities consist primarily of small-unit training but frequently
include operations tailored specifically to the needs of the host nation.
Consequently, JCET missions can include everything from small-boat handling to
urban warfare. Both the Pentagon and the Special Operations Command value JCET
argue that because SOF require sophisticated skills—including knowledge of
foreign cultures and languages as well as experience in foreign terrain and
climates—such overseas training and exposure to foreign peoples is essential.
Although they always maintain that the training of SOF is the primary purpose
(as required by law), defense officials quickly identify all of the added
“benefits” or “byproducts” of the program. JCET, according to the
Pentagon, enhances the skills of the host nation’s forces, forges lasting
relations with foreign officials, helps teach the proper role of the military in
civil society, and increases the influence of the United States in the
participating countries. 6
JCET Program’s “Other” Purposes
reality, the JCET program has changed from the pure military training program
spelled out by the law to a program the primary purpose of which is now the
advancement of those foreign policy “byproducts,” as well as various other
U.S. interests and policies. Even the Pentagon’s “Report on Training of
Special Operations Forces” for 1997—the required annual report submitted to
Congress—admits, “SOF unit training is a significant, relatively low cost
tool in the strategy of engagement.” 7
sheer geographic scale of the program renders ridiculous any claim that the
primary purpose of the program is to train U.S. soldiers. It is legitimate for
the Pentagon to train its SOF in actual deserts or jungles and give them
exposure to foreign cultures, but to have SOF missions in almost every
developing nation in the world — when so many are geo-graphically and
culturally similar — clearly demonstrates the priorities of the program. For
example, in 1997 the special forces conducted JCET deployments in all six
Central American countries and conducted multiple deployments in three of the
six nations. In FY97 there were 231 deployments in 100 countries (see Appendix).
does this description mention what is supposed to be the primary purpose of the
program—the training of U.S. SOF. In other words, JCET is, at best, an easy
source of funding for SOF deployments to advance the Pentagon’s version of
U.S. interests and policy in a nation or a region. At worst, JCET provides the
U.S. military a way around congressional and presidential restrictions on aid,
training, and operations. In both cases, the effects of this one small program
have broad policy implications that are rarely given full consideration by the
Pentagon and are subject to executive and legislative branch review only once a
year—months after any exercises have taken place.
large part of the support that followed was 16 JCET missions to train Venezuelan
soldiers in airborne and small-unit tactics. 12
Colombia and a number of Caribbean and Central American nations, JCET missions
provided the U.S. military an easy way to fund assistance for counter-narcotics
operations. Frequent JCET missions have also occurred in the politically fragile
nations of Paraguay, Bolivia, and Ecuador in an attempt to maintain stability.
Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, JCET missions are being used as the
first step in forging new relationships between the Pentagon and the formerly
hostile militaries of those countries. 14
FY97 alone JCET missions trained soldiers in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic,
Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and
Uzbekistan. Another program, known as the Joint Contact Team Program (JCTP) —
which adheres to the same philosophy of achieving influence and stability
through direct military-to-military relationships and which also operates with
little oversight—has been quietly placing U.S. military advisers in
high-ranking positions in the militaries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet
its start in 1992, the JCTP has opened advising offices in and assigned U.S.
personnel to 13 countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. U.S.
military personnel have played a key role in much of the military reform and
reconstruction currently underway in the region. 15
Africa JCET personnel have conducted basic training for and evaluation of the
armed forces of nations for the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), a
multinational African peacekeeping force being organized jointly by the State
and Defense Departments. JCET missions have frequented all of the nations
participating in ACRI, including Senegal, Uganda, Malawi, Ghana, and Mali.
many of the nations already mentioned, as well as others, the U.S. military
avoided screening participating foreign personnel for abusers of human rights.
In a number of cases, the U.S. armed forces avoided U.S. restrictions on
military aid by using the JCET program. In those cases, the JCET program allowed
the military to pursue an almost independent policy, free of congressional or
presidential limitations that apply to every other military aid and training
program. Despite their exclusion from almost all other U.S. international aid
programs, nations with egregious human rights records, such as Suriname and
Equatorial Guinea, have received training through the JCET program. 17
programs like the International Military Exchange and Training program (IMET)
require a formal vetting of participants, the JCET program does not. The Defense
Department insists that informal vetting procedures involving the host
government and the U.S. embassy did usually take place. 18
training of possible abusers of human rights—primarily in Colombia and
Indonesia—has brought the most congressional scrutiny of the JCET program.
Colombia’s failure to cooperate with U.S. narcotics policy, as well as the
country’s poor human rights record, brought consistently stronger restrictions
on U.S. military aid beginning in 1995. By 1997 a virtual freeze existed on all
U.S. military aid programs to Colombia. Yet JCET missions continued. In fact,
six more JCET missions were planned for FY98. 19
an almost total ban on U.S. military assistance to Indonesia, JCET personnel
trained with Indonesia’s special forces, Kopassus, to conduct
helicopter and urban war-fare. Many of the same Indonesian units were later
suspected of abuses during the political unrest surrounding the end of President
Suharto’s rule. 20
Pentagon argues that such military-to-military interaction, even with militaries
that regularly abuse human rights, is beneficial. The Department of Defense
claims that American ways will rub off on the foreign hosts. Col. Daniel Smith
(Ret.) of the Center for Defense Information disagrees. He writes, “We fool
ourselves if we believe that intermit-tent contact impresses American views
about human rights and civilian control of the military on foreign soldiers
whose traditions do not include such ideas.” 21
The New Foreign Service
the training of possible abusers of human rights has garnered the most attention
turns SOF personnel into key representatives of the U.S. government—as
self-appointed “diplomat-warriors.” SOF personnel often have more active
contact with foreign officials than do people from any other U.S. agency,
including the State Department. 22
abroad at an average of 4,800 in any given week, SOF personnel already outnumber
the 4,000 Foreign Service officers of the State Department. According to Andrew
Nichols Pratt, a former Marine colonel now at the George C. Marshall European
Center for Security Studies in Germany, “The State Department has become a
very small organization, mostly underfunded and undermanned. . . . Engagement is
easier for the military. We have the infrastructure and the educational
programs. The military has the ability to move around and we have resources.” 23
U.S. Foreign Policy
implications of the militarization of U.S. foreign policy—aided by the JCET
pro-gram— are quite serious and should require earnest public and
congressional consideration. The Army Times reported on the increased
U.S. military involvement in Latin America, which is spearheaded by JCET
missions: Officials at the Pentagon and the International Monetary Fund . . .
prediction seems to disregard the national policymaking process and view the
Pentagon’s expansive new role as inevitable. Coletta Youngers of the
Washington Office on Latin America noted, “The United States runs the risk of
having [Southern Command] set its own policy.” Military training “is
undermining the Latin American trend toward demilitarization, democratization
and respect for human rights.” 25
Youngers, the Army Times,in a story about JCET in Venezuela, wrote,
short, JCET missions could undermine overall U.S. foreign policy goals in Latin
America and other regions of the world. Similar fears are heard regarding the
previously mentioned JCTP in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Because
U.S. advisers are placed at the highest levels in the foreign ministries or
general staffs of the host nations and have helped to redesign the militaries of
those newly independent states, this new U.S. influence has been called an
“informal alliance.” Some analysts fear that such near-official partnerships
imply U.S. defense commitments that may isolate Russia as much as would a fully
expanded NATO. In addition, as is the case with all of the new
military-to-military relationships, placing such a heavy emphasis on improving
the armed forces in nations attempting to move toward democracy and civilian
control is dangerous.
Plesch, director of the British American Security Information Council, noted
that the JCTP “is a diversion from the important goal of stabilizing societies
and economies in the region. And it really pro-vides an unnoticed and massive
extended mandate for American security commit-ments.” 27
Africa, concerns have also been raised about spreading military know-how and
sophisticated tactics to some of the least stable countries in the world.
Rwanda’s invasion of Zaire occurred after numerous U.S. military aid and
education programs for the Rwandan military. Although the Pentagon is quick to
point out that only 2 of the 30 U.S. military missions to Rwanda between 1994
and August 1997 were JCET missions, those were the only missions that taught
combat skills (including small-unit-leader training and rifle marksmanship). 28
pattern of U.S. involvement in the domestic and regional affairs of foreign
countries through military-driven relationships should seem eerily familiar,
resembling as it does the manner in which the United States slowly but
inexorably entered the Vietnam War. Programs like JCET multiply greatly the
potential to be dragged into conflicts that do not threaten America’s vital
interests. Every new relationship between the U.S. military and that of a
essential similarities between the U.S. advisers of the Cold War period and the
U.S. trainers of today are demonstrated by the specific skills taught during
JCET missions. Although the Pentagon emphasizes the humanitarian aspects of its
training, Lt. Col. Stephen Howard, the deputy political adviser to the U.S.
Special Operations Command, wrote, “Training foreign militaries consistent
with our democratic values (called Foreign Internal Defense or FID) is SOF’s
most common mission today.” 29
today’s FID is often described with such terms as “democracy building,”
FID has meant and continues to mean counterinsurgency training. The “1998
Special Operations Forces Posture Statement” indicates that special forces,
when carrying out FID, will “organize, train, advise, and assist host-nation
military and paramilitary forces to enable these forces to free and protect
their society from subversion, lawlessness, and insurgency.” 30
every region, FID is the centerpiece of most JCET missions and is synonymous
with counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism training. Regardless of the
moniker, the training is essentially the same and can be used for a wide variety
of purposes once U.S. personnel have departed the host country. 31
missions are in effect teaching techniques that could be used for oppression in
the name of spreading democracy—all the while risking U.S. entanglement in
innumerable petty conflicts. For example, JCET missions taught skills that could
be used for repression to militaries in nations with histories of human rights
abuses—Cambodia, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Singapore,
Inquiry and the Pentagon’s Quick Fixes
the training of possible abusers of human rights in Indonesia and Colombia
became known early in 1998, a great deal of congressional and media attention
has been focused on the JCET program. Each time the pressure to justify and
explain the program has risen, the Pentagon has made a concession.
Department of Defense has instituted mostly procedural changes that, when
combined with the newly passed Leahy law, make the program more bureaucratic but
do nothing to solve its substantive problems.
intense congressional scrutiny in the spring of 1998, the Pentagon agreed to add
a third step to the approval process for JCET deployment. According to a
Pentagon spokesman in May 1998, “Secretary Cohen felt that in light of the
growing congressional interest in the program . . . particularly related to
Indonesia and now Colombia, that it was appropriate that he have somebody in his
immediate office . . . monitoring this pro-gram.” 32
change required the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and
low-intensity conflict to give some manner of approval to each deployment. By
the end of July, however, when the Washington Postran a three-part series
about the program, the assistant secretary still did not have a clear idea of
the summer of 1998 Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sponsored a successful amendment
to his 1996 human rights bill. The amendment prohibited any weapon sale or
“training program involving a unit of the security forces of a foreign country
if the Secretary of Defense has received credible information from the
Department of State that a member of such unit has committed a gross violation
of human rights.” 33
it was not immediately clear that the Leahy law would apply to the JCET program,
the Pentagon later said that the program would be covered. Although the
legislation was well-intentioned, it fails to solve the problems presented by
the JCET program and even creates additional complications. The first
application of the Leahy law demonstrates the bureaucratic
The International Military Training Transparency and Accountability Act
by the series of articles in the Washington Post, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.)
introduced the International Military Training Transparency and Accountability
Act (H.R. 1063), targeted specifically at the JCET program. Introduced too late
for action during the 105th Congress, the bill was reintroduced in March 1999.
it is passed, all military training programs, including JCET, will be prohibited
in countries barred from receiving other military aid, such as IMET. This
prohibition is designed to prevent continued SOF training in nations otherwise
off limits—such as Indonesia and Colombia. Although this bill might have
prevented the embarrassing incidents in Indonesia and Colombia, it still leaves
the JCET program free to operate as before in every nation of the world from
which U.S. military aid is not explicitly banned. Until congressional or
presidential scrutiny, followed by legislative or executive action, is brought
to bear on a nation—which typically occurs after human rights abuses or
oppression has begun—JCET will be unimpeded. Smith’s bill is a small
improvement, but it does not tackle the larger policy questions posed by the
given the controversy surrounding the increasingly infamous JCET program, the
Pentagon may shift to other means of deploying SOF to avoid the oversight and
limelight that the JCET program would likely engender.
all, it was the very flexibility and invisibility of the JCET program that
attracted the military to it in the first place. The heightened attention
currently being paid to the JCET program may well make a new program with a new
acronym desirable. In any case, past reforms have done little but bog the
program down in a giant interdepartmental procedural mess without eliminating or
reducing the risks. Smith’s bill only limits the program in the most extreme
the slapdash reforms made by the Pentagon nor the recent well-intentioned but
is an inherently reckless program that has the potential for far more disastrous
abuses than have thus far occurred. The program is an almost unregulated avenue
for the building of cozy and often dubious relationships with the militaries and
governments of developing nations—many of which are governed by corrupt
authoritarian regimes. It provides the U.S. military with a powerful tool for
the implementation of its own goals and policies, largely insulated from
civilian oversight. Only by substantially revising the legal authority under
which the JCET program currently operates can Congress avert those dangers. Such
action would send a clear message to the Pentagon that U.S. military involvement
overseas should not be taken lightly and must be closely monitored and
controlled by Congress.
the problems with the JCET pro-gram, opportunities for training U.S. SOF must be
provided. The 1991 authorizing law—with its broad language—should be
replaced with a more specific statute that authorizes a purely military training
program devoid of questionable foreign policy objectives. To achieve that goal,
the statutory language should be changed to indicate that the
“exclusive”—rather than the “primary”— purpose of the program is to
train U.S. SOF personnel. The statute should also stipulate that the geographic
scope of the program should be as limited as possible while maintaining the
objective of providing adequate military training for U.S. SOF. The requirement
to report annually to Congress on JCET missions should be continued for the
purposes of congressional oversight, even though a more specific law would allow
little leeway for dubious military training missions that are really designed
for other purposes.
such a comprehensive reform will ensure a program that has the exclusive purpose
of training U.S. SOF personnel. Otherwise, the JCET program will continue to
provide an opportunity for the U.S. military to conduct its own foreign policy,
the potential for making often oppressive host-nation military forces more
capable, and the possibility of embroiling the United States in wars in the
developing world that are unnecessary to its security.
JCET Deployments in FY97
there was only a single deployment to a country, no number is given. Larger
numbers of deployments are given in parentheses. 36
Operations Command, Central (SOCCENT)
(2) Kenya (2)
number of training exercises: 21
U.S. personnel: 855
Operations Command, Europe (SOVCEUR)
(4) Norway (4)
(2) Portugal (3)
Bissau Spain (5)
United Kingdom (2)
number of training exercises: 66
U.S. personnel: 1,118
Operations Command, Pacific (SOCPAC)
Kong Singapore (4)
(8) South Korea (12)
Sri Lanka (3)
number of training exercises: 65
U.S. personnel: 1,505
Operations Command, Atlantic (SOCACOM)
Number of training exercises: 3
U.S. personnel: 96
Operations Command, South
(3) Honduras (5)
(10) Paraguay (6)
(3) St. Lucia
Rica (5) Suriname
Republic Trinidad (2)
Salvador (6) Venezuela (3)
number of training exercises: 71
U.S. personnel: 933
U.S. Department of Defense,“Report on Training of Special Operations
Forces,” April 1, 1998, p. 1.
Quoted in Dana Priest, “Free of Oversight, U.S. Military Trains Foreign
Troops,” Washington Post,
12, 1998, p. A1.
U.S.Department of Defense, “1998 Special Operations Forces Posture
Priest, “Free of Oversight,” p. A1.
U.S. Department of Defense, “Report on Training of Special Operations
Forces,” p. 1.
U.S. Department of Defense, “Report on Training of Special Operations
Forces”; and H.
Holmes, assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity
conflict, Letter to Reps. Banjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.), Bob Livingston (R-La.),
and Floyd Spence (R-S.C.) and Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Ted Stevens
(R-Alaska), and Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), April 6, 1998.
E. Saner and Dan J. Poulos, “Special Operations Forces . . . JCETS in the
Pacific,” para. 12, www.pacom.mil/forum/Jcets98.html.
C. Wilson, “In Venezuela with the Green Berets,” Army Times,September
9, 1996, p. 12.
Department of State, “International Narcotics Control Strategy Report,
1997,” March 1998, p. 3.
Farah, “A Tutor to Every Army in Latin America,”Washington Post,July
13, 1998, p. A1.
and Poulos, para. 5.
Priest, “U.S. Military Builds Alliances across Europe,” Washington Post,December
14, 1998, p. A1.
Department of Defense, “Briefing on African Crisis Response Initiative,”
July 29, 1997.
“Free of Oversight,” p. A1.
C. E. Wilhelm, commander in chief, U.S. Southern Command, Letter to Rep. Lee
Hamilton (D-Ind.), August 24, 1998.
Department of Defense, “DoD News Briefing,” May 26, 1998.
“Free of Oversight,” p. A1.
Smith, “U.S. Military Support for Indonesia: ‘Engagement’ Gone Awry?” Weekly
Defense Monitor,March 26, 1998.
Gundersen and Stephen Howard, “The Real ‘A’ Team,” Foreign Service
in Priest, “U.S. Military Builds Alliances,” p. A1.
in Farah, p. A1.
in Priest, “U.S. Military Builds Alliances,” p. A1.
Department of Defense, “Report to Congress on U.S. Military Activities in
Rwanda, 1994—August 1997,” August 19, 1997, table, www.defenselink.mil.
in Gundersen and Howard.
Department of Defense, “1998 Special Operations Forces Posture Statement,”
“Free of Oversight,” p. A1.
Department of Defense, News briefing, May 26, 1998.
Amendment, no. 3477, Congressional Record,Senate, July 30, 1998, http://thomas.loc.gov.
Priest, “New Human Rights Law Triggers Policy Debate,” Washington Post,December
31, 1998, p. A34.
other pieces of legislation targeting the JCET program were introduced in the
105th Congress. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) sponsored the International
Military Training and Accountability Act (H.R. 3802), and Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.)
sponsored the Security Assistance Act of 1998 (S. 2463). Both bills proposed
essentially the same measures as the International Military Training
Transparency and Accountability Act; however, neither bill was acted on by the
105th Congress, and neither has been reintroduced in the 106th. See William C.
Story Jr., “Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) and Human Rights:
Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, January
26, 1999, p. 20.
in the Appendix to this paper comes from U.S. Department of Defense, “Report
on Training of Special Operations Forces,” Appendix.
John Rudy was a research assistant at the Cato Institute in 1998. Ivan Eland is Cato’s director of defense policy studies.
by the Cato Institute, Cato Foreign Policy Briefing is a regular series
evaluating government policies