The United States foreign policy is pushing out agenda which has a goal to ensure that the United States is the preferred military partner for the countries surrounding China, and the Army’s 1st Special Forces Group has been working that angle for decades.
But this year has seen new lines of effort.
From deploying a response team to Sri Lanka after the Easter Sunday bombings to kickstarting a new Mongolian trainer force, to training with Philippine troops to retake islands from a peer adversary in the South China Sea, 1st Group has been busy.
“The fundamentals remain the same,” Col. Owen Ray, commander of 1st Group, said at the Pentagon Wednesday. “Long-standing relations are what endure. Those are what give us a comparative advantage against near-peer competitors.”
Failing to establish good military-to-military relations with partner nations has downstream effects as the Pentagon begins competing with China in the region, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Eric Curran, 1st Group’s senior enlisted leader.
“After the coup in Thailand we severed a significant amount of mil-to-mil engagement, which is to be expected,” Curran said. “But in that space, in that vacuum of time, we lost a lot of traction.”
Curran said he’s been rotating in and out of Asia for 20 years. One Thai military officer he grew close to in that time and who now leads an elite counter-terrorism force has often come to the United States for training, including attending Special Forces Qualification Course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“[He’s] very pro-American,” Curran said. “His subordinate captains, who he’s bringing up and who he’s going to carry with him through the hierarchy of the Thai military, had no desire to come to the United States.”
“They want to go train in Russia and China,” Curran added. “That’s one of the impacts we notice at the ground level.”
Authoritarian upswings and regional politics can make it difficult to justify to Congress and the American public why the Pentagon is working with certain countries’ security forces. But keeping those programs running through turbulent times, or at least doubling down when it’s feasible to restart them, can yield benefits in the long run.
Many of the gains from partner force training missions take years to surface in a tangible way that lawmakers can point to as evidence of money well-spent.
Around 2001, 1st Group soldiers began training Philippine Rangers who would eventually form the Light Reaction Regiment, the Philippine Army’s premier counter-terrorism and special mission unit.
That force saw early action in the mid-2000s against the Abu Sayyaf terror group on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Later on, they proved pivotal in the campaign to uproot the Islamic State during the 2017 Battle of Marawi.
“We work with these guys — very small footprint, very low political cost, very low financial cost — over a period of time, and then we get a result like Marawi,” Curran said. “They were able to take the lead, no U.S. forces got involved and they countered ISIS in a strategic location we care a lot about in great power competition.”
Green Berets are no longer teaching Philippine special operators how to shoot, Curran noted. The training has turned to command and control, running a battlefield and complex operations, such as the island seizure training that one 1st Group company conducted with Philippine forces in their northwestern region of Luzon this April.
“You have incursions by China into Philippine economic zones, getting after their fishing, pressing on the Spratly [islands],” Ray said. “It was in that larger geostrategic context … that the Philippine armed forces wanted to train a forced entry, take back sovereign terrain scenario.”
Exercises like that help alleviate the need for immediate U.S. support in the event of a crisis. After all, American forces suffer under the “tyranny of distance” when looking to operate far from home in the Indo-Pacom theater, Ray said.
Today, though, the information space also presents new challenges for the U.S. military as it works to send the right messages to would-be allies.
“The things we are more cognizant of are in the information environment,” Ray said. “It’s a spot wherein special operations we have not engaged at the level that we can to demonstrate that we’re the preferred partners in some of the areas we get into.”
The full article can be found HERE. It is originally written by Kyle Rempfer and published on Army Times.