Pentagon seeks to expand special ops authorities for friendly nations

Pentagon seeks to expand special ops authorities for friendly nations

The Defense Department wants Congress to approve an expansion of special operations authorities to train and equip U.S.-aligned countries for irregular warfare against outside aggressors.

The Pentagon submitted a legislative proposal to Congress in April that would expand the scope of these authorities – usually reserved for counterterrorism, counternarcotics and border security activities – to include “resistance operations” and “foreign internal defense operations.”

“Investing in the capacity of Taiwan’s internal and layered defense apparatus is a significant effort; existing security cooperation operations, activities and investments only marginally address current needs,” the Defense Department argued in its proposal.

“Similarly, Scandinavian and Baltic countries in northeast Europe are at-risk due to possible Russian influence, incursion and conflict, and would be mutual benefactors with the U.S. of deliberate efforts to build partnership capacity for resistance operations to mitigate the threat from Russia and deter aggression.”

The proposal defines resistance operations as those in which “national security forces and the civilian government and populace of a country resist an invasion or occupation by an adversarial power.” It defines foreign internal defense operations as those “to protect a country and its populace from acts of subversion sponsored by a foreign country that pose a significant threat to the existing government.”

U.S. Special Operations Forces can already train and equip partner forces for certain missions under existing authorities.

For instance, Section 1202 authorities first established in the fiscal 2018 defense policy bill to respond to Russian’s support for Ukrainian separatists allow Special Operations Forces to arm proxies for irregular warfare in other countries. Those activities have so far largely been limited to intelligence-gathering operations.

The Pentagon proposal argues that adding “foreign internal defense operations” to irregular warfare authorities is needed “to address the relative instability of some African national security infrastructures.”

“Kenya is a prime example as their conventional and [Special Operations Force] units are growing in capacity, but their security infrastructure and institutional pillars are vulnerable to corruption, subversion, lawlessness, terrorism and civil war,” notes the Pentagon proposal.

The Biden administration has pledged $100 million for Kenya to lead multinational forces in Haiti as part of a bid to restore stability amid mounting gang violence. Kenyan forces are due in Haiti at the end of the month, but the Defense Department has yet to finish construction on a base for them, Politico reported in April.

The Pentagon estimates that its proposed expansion of irregular warfare authorities will cost roughly $1.3 million per year through FY29. Congress will consider the Pentagon’s legislative proposals as it marks up the FY25 defense policy bill in the weeks ahead.

Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.

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