- US special operations troops have for decades been deployed overseas to train partners.
- Such training makes these partners better fighters and helps build long-term relationships.
- Foreign home defense, as it is called, is one of the most important special operations missions, said a US Green Beret.
In October, news reports highlighted the presence of American special operators in Taiwan, training their local counterparts in the skills needed to fend off a Chinese invasion.
But this is nothing new. Indeed, US special operations units have worked in dozens of countries for decades, teaching local units how to become better fighters and win conflicts.
This military diplomacy strengthens the American presence in the world and creates valuable alliances and partnerships that can be leveraged when needed.
The approximately 70,000 personnel and support troops attached to the United States Special Operations Command and its more secretive sub-unit Joint Special Operations Command have global responsibilities and can conduct a wide range of missions.
A platoon of Army Rangers can conduct a direct action operation to take down an Al-Qaeda target in Iraq. A Marine Raider team can perform a strategic reconnaissance mission to observe an Al Shabaab outpost in Kenya and gather intelligence. Army Green Berets can conduct an unconventional warfare operation by teaming up with local guerrillas to take on Taliban fighters.
But one of the lesser-known but most promising sets of missions in the United States Special Operations Command arsenal is foreign homeland defense.
Teach others to fight
The Ministry of Defense defines foreign internal defense as the civil and military agencies of a government participating in any “programme of action undertaken by another government or other designated organization to liberate and protect its society from subversion, anarchy and ‘insurrection”.
“Foreign home defense is one of the important tools in our toolbox, and that’s why we place so much emphasis on it,” a Green Beret assigned to a National Guard unit told Insider.
When conducting foreign home defense, special operators partner with foreign military forces and train them, the idea being that it is easier and a better use of resources to teach a foreign force to fight for herself.
“There is a specific reason why the Q course relies heavily on the foreign internal defense skill set,” the Green Beret added, referring to the Special Forces Qualification Course.
“In addition to the tactical component, we learn very well to pass on knowledge. This is where the cultural and linguistic training” that the Green Berets receive “really shines,” said the Green Beret. “I can think I’m the best SUT [small-unit tactics] instructor there, but if I can’t impart that knowledge succinctly and effectively, then I’m not a real instructor.”
When American coaches speak the language and know the customs of the host country’s force, “then it’s much easier to bond with them and make them understand what you’re teaching,” the Green Beret added.
With instructions provided by Foreign Homeland Defense, U.S. special operators can reduce or eliminate the assistance that partner forces would need in the event of a conflict.
This instruction can range from basic small unit tactics to advanced close combat, among many other skills, “but the goal is always to enable [host nation] forces to conduct their own unilateral operations. If we don’t have that goal in mind, then we’ll be there forever,” the National Guard Green Beret said.
Build long-term relationships
Foreign home defense is also about establishing long-term relationships with foreign military personnel or even specific units.
“FID can establish and refine capabilities. It’s a very diverse set of missions that can meet different needs and truly be a force multiplier. In many ways, FID is the first line of defense,” said to Insider a former Army Special Forces officer.
“FID also has an interesting evolutionary aspect,” the former officer said. “We can go to a country and establish a special or conventional operations unit and go back a few years later and train them on a specific insertion capability,” like combat diving or free-fall parachuting.
“In many ways, FID never ends, and we often end up building successful, long-term partnerships with certain units,” said the former officer, who like the National Guard’s Green Beret, doesn’t was not authorized to speak to the press. “But we also get something out of it. Years or decades later, when we revisit Country X, they are now experienced and they can teach us things too. FID can be a mutually beneficial arrangement that increases our experience and our combat effectiveness in the long term.”
Although foreign homeland defense is a specialty of the Army Green Berets, the intense operational demand created by the Global War on Terror forced other units – which were competing for deployment opportunities and funding – to put more emphasis on this set of missions.
Even the most elite special mission units, such as Delta Force and the unit formerly known as SEAL Team 6, have sometimes had to do foreign internal defense to get missions.
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.