The Foreign Military Training Report: ASMP Analysis

In May the State and Defense departments released the 2002 Foreign Military Training Report (FMTR), a congressionally mandated summary of most military education and training programs that covers activities for FY2001 and FY2002. Section 656 of the Foreign Assistance Act requires that the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State prepare a report on all Department of State (DoS) and Department of Defense (DoD) training activities provided to foreign military personnel during the previous year, and all training proposed for the current fiscal year. To ensure the report is accessible to the public, the FAA also requires that the State Department post it on its web site. According to the 2002 FMTR, in FY2001 and FY2002 these programs are likely to involve 108,500 foreign soldiers and civilian officials from 176 countries.

This year's report is a mixed bag. Overall, it is an improvement over those of past years, both in terms of content and format. At the same time, the report still lacks information necessary for proper congressional and public oversight of all training activities. It also reveals the U.S. government's inconsistent application of its own eligibility criteria to military training programs.

The first FMTR, which included data on training from FY1998 and FY1999, was relatively comprehensive but also nearly impenetrable. The four-volume report consisted primarily of raw data, lacked page numbers, and was full of technical errors. Information contained in the FY2000 FMTR was more accessible thanks to formatting changes and a newly added congressional requirement that it be posted on the State Department's web site. Improvements in accessibility and ease of use were offset by the elimination of several categories of data, however. The exclusion of the training location, identity of the individuals and/or unit(s) trained, and training dates made it much more difficult for human rights advocates to identify and call attention to cases in which training was provided to units later implicated in human rights abuses.

Reasons for Muted Celebration
There are reasons to celebrate this year's FMTR, both in terms of its content and the many examples of training denied to abusers contained therein. The most notable change to the report itself is the reinsertion of three categories of information that were removed from Section 4 of the 2000 and 2001 reports. In addition to the name of the courses provided, the number of students, and the cost, which were included in last year's report, the 2002 report also includes the location in which the courses were held; the military units, services or government ministry to which the trainee is assigned; and the dates of the training.

The U.S. government's willingness to uphold nonproliferation, nonaggression and human rights norms by cutting off aid and training to certain regimes is also apparent, although it continued to provide some training to most countries with poor records in these areas. Several regimes were denied most forms of military training [1] again in 2001, including Rwanda, Burundi, and Zimbabwe, all of which, asserts the FMTR, continued to contribute to the bloody regional war being fought in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report also notes that Belarus, Fiji, Equatorial Guinea, Uganda and Cote d'Ivoire were prohibited from receiving most military aid because of their regimes' anti-democratic behavior or, in the case of Uganda, because of ongoing civil conflict. By law, IMET assistance to Indonesia and Guatemala continued to be limited to Expanded IMET [2] because of their failure to hold human rights abusers accountable for their crimes. Finally, several other countries identified by the State Department as major sponsors of international terrorism were denied military aid altogether. [3]

However, many of the regimes denied training through other programs were nonetheless permitted to send students to the DoD's Regional Centers for Security Studies. In the FMTR, State and DoD officials justify this training by claiming that the Centers (1) "support democratic governance"[4] through courses on civil-military relations and defense economics, (2) facilitate the formation of relationships between U.S. and the civil and military leaders of participating countries, and (3) promote collaboration on regional security issues. The Marshall Center's curriculum, for example, does indeed provide instruction on conflict management and resolution, cooperative security, democratization, ethics and civil military relations. At the same time, it also offers instruction on national security planning. Better planning skills lead to more efficient and effective military operations, the desirability of which depends on the intention and actions of the military leaders learning the skills. In the hands of commanders that respect international humanitarian law and human rights, these skills further the ostensible goals of the Center. Conversely, when taught to officers that serve repressive regimes or countenance abusive practices by their units, better planning may work at cross-purposes with these goals. Regardless, U.S. taxpayer-funded training confers legitimacy to the recipient regime and its actions and undermines human rights and nonaggression norms.

Room for Improvement
The FMTR, and the training programs it chronicles, could be improved in several ways. First, the information provided about the units to which the trainees belong varies in specificity. For example, specific Djiboutian units are not identified - only the service of the unit is given (e.g. "Djiboutian Navy"). In contrast the report identifies the specific battalions to which the Senegalese IMET recipients belong (e.g. "26th Reconnaissance and Support BN"). Public monitoring of the application of the Leahy Law - which prohibits the distribution of security assistance to units of foreign security forces that commit "gross violations of human rights"- requires detailed information about the units receiving training. Thus future reports should specify, minimally, the battalion to which the trainees are assigned. There are also several minor problems that, if corrected, would make the report more useable. For example, descriptions of several of the courses listed in the "Country Training Activities" section are either missing or inconsistently labeled in Section V.

The exclusion of data on NATO countries is also a concern. As a result of this exception to the FMTR's otherwise comprehensive reporting requirements, detailed information on NATO members such as Turkey, which committed widespread human rights abuses against its Kurdish population throughout the 1990s, is absent. Assuming that the steady expansion of NATO continues over the next decade, the exclusion of data on NATO countries will become increasingly problematic.

Expanding the declassified section of the FTMR to include data on those training programs that currently lack public reporting requirements would also increase transparency and accountability. Of particular concern are those programs run by the intelligence community and Private Military Contractors (PMCs). From the abuses committed by the Mexican Federal Preventive Police and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (Ireland) - both of which have received FBI training [5} - to the unprecedented "blowback" that the West and its allies are experiencing as a result of the CIA's training programs in Afghanistan, the intelligence community's military training record is testament to the need for greater public and congressional oversight of the full gamut of government training programs.

Private Military Contractors pose special challenges. None of the annual reports on military training include a comprehensive list of training assignments completed by PMCs, and Congress is only notified of individual PMC training contracts valued at $50 million or more.[6] This lack of oversight is particularly problematic considering the likelihood that policy makers will continue to use PMCs to complete training missions considered too politically risky for U.S. troops. The American PMC Military Professional Resources Inc.'s (MPRI) controversial training program in Croatia illustrates this point. In 1995, MPRI received authorization from the State Department to train the embattled Croatian army in military ethics, leadership skills and budgeting. In August of that year, the Croatian army launched a devastating offensive against the Serbian Army that drove them out of Krajina and displaced 150,000 Serb civilians. While MPRI took no credit for the remarkable improvement in the Croat battlefield performance, claiming that it had not "provided any technical or strategic advice or planning as part of [the Krajina] offensive", [7] skeptics argue that the turnaround was too dramatic to have been achieved by the Croats on their own [8] . Either way, the case highlights the need for greater congressional and public oversight of PMC activity, especially in war zones.

Also of concern is the sharp increase in the number of foreign military personnel participating in the Joint Combined Exercises and Training (JCET) program: the number of foreign soldiers participating in JCETs jumped from 4775 in 2000 to 6030 in 2001. According the FMTR, the JCET program seeks to hone the skills of U.S. Special Forces by allowing them to participate in joint exercises with foreign troops. The Pentagon claims that since JCETs are not intended to train foreign troops per se, any training benefits that "might accrue" to foreign forces are "incidental." There are reasons to doubt that these training benefits are always simply "incidental", however. Government documents requested by Representative Lane Evans in 1997 revealed that the Pentagon used the JCET program to circumvent the ban on military training for Indonesian troops. Under the auspices of the program, U.S. Special Forces provided the Kopassus with instruction in marksmanship, sniper skills, and close quarter combat [9]. As evidenced by the Kopassus case, JCETs are problematic because the skills learned by foreign militaries during these exercises reflect the training needs of the Special Forces and thus often focus heavily on unconventional warfare skills and tactics - skills that are also useful in counterinsurgency operations. When these skills are imparted to soldiers in units like the Kopassus who are prone to abuse human rights, the U.S. risks exacerbating the suffering of civilians in war zones, both by improving the lethality of the offending forces and implicitly sanctioning their behavior.

Of particular concern is the continuation of JCET activities with security forces accused of committing human rights abuses against civilians in the course of their ongoing struggle against insurgents, such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Sri Lankan military and police forces. In 2001, the number of Sri Lankan forces training with US Special Forces dropped slightly from 327 to 307 while the scope of JCET activity in the Philippines increased dramatically, involving 573 members of the AFP versus 343 in FY2000. This rigorous schedule of JCETs continued despite accusations by reputable human rights groups that both countries' armed forces continued to violate international humanitarian and human rights law. In September 2000,the human rights group Amnesty International (AI) condemned the AFP for engaging in the "indiscriminate bombing of the civilian population," extrajudicial executions, torture, and denying aid workers access to wounded civilians in conflict zones.[10] Similar accusations have been levied against the Sri Lankan Security Forces. In its 2000 Annual Report, AI identified incidents of indiscriminate bombing and other violations of international humanitarian principles [11] committed in the context of its operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

This year's FMTR also highlights the failure of many U.S. military recipients to adhere to more general human rights requirements. Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act prohibits the provision of security assistance "…to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights." Yet the U.S. continues to train officials and officers of regimes guilty of numerous, serious human rights abuses. The State Department's 1999 human rights report, which was available to policy makers in time to influence the 2001 foreign aid budgeting cycle, documents serious abuses committed by dozens of recipients of training in lethal military skills. More precisely, 42 of the regimes that received combat training in 2001 were identified by the State Department as having "poor" human rights records or being guilty of "serious" abuses.[12]

Incredibly, millions of dollars in training was provided not only to regimes with consistently poor human rights records but also to Uzbekistan, whose human rights record was actually worse in 1999 than in previous years. The $1,010,264 in military training allocated for Uzbekistan went to a regime that is now infamous for its anti-democratic and abusive practices. According to the State Department's human rights report, President Islam Karimov's security forces were responsible for several deaths of prisoners in custody; torture, including electric shocks, beatings with rubber sticks, and near suffocation; and arbitrary arrest and detention. The families of prisoners and other individuals targeted by the state were often threatened, harassed or mistreated.

FMTR: Current Concerns
Asserting that the FMTR is under utilized and that compiling it is too time consuming, elements within the U.S. government are pushing hard to weaken the FMTR or eliminate it altogether. Recent legislative vehicles through which this contingent has chosen to advance its aims are the FY2002 and FY2003 Foreign Relations Authorization Act (House) and the Security Assistance Act of 2001 (Senate). The Senate version authorizes the exclusion of data on training provided to NATO countries and major non-NATO allies in the 2003 report unless the chair or ranking member of a relevant Congressional committee requests that this information be included.

The threat to the FMTR posed by the House bill is much more serious. Should proponents of the House version prevail in the upcoming conference committee negotiations, the FMTR could be scrapped altogether. Sect. 861 of HR 1646, which was passed by the full House on 16 May 2001, replaces the words "Not later than January 31 of each year" in Section 656 of the Foreign Assistance Act with "Upon written request by the chairman or ranking member of the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives or the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate." In other words, unless a ranking committee member requests it, the State Department and the Pentagon would be relieved of their responsibility to assemble the report. Assuming that the committee members go to the trouble of even requesting the report next year, another provision in the House version would still all but guarantee that the 2003 FMTR would be incomplete. Section 861(2) of HR 1646 requires State and the DoD to include data only on those countries specifically identified by the committee member(s) requesting the report.

Even if the most onerous provisions of its HR 1646 are ultimately removed, the message sent by the House is clear: the training report is both burdensome and expendable. This should serve as a wake up call for advocates of transparency and accountability in security assistance programs; the defenders of the FMTR could tip the scales to ensure its survival.

Questions and comments should be sent to Matt Schroeder at [email protected]

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