Taiwan Issues Rare Confirmation That U.S. Special Operators Are Training On The Island (Updated)

The unusual step of announcing the presence of U.S. Marine Raiders operating in Taiwan is bound to draw the ire of the mainland.

U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special / Public Domain

Taiwan has provided official confirmation that units from the United States military have been training in Taiwan. It’s the latest example of how ongoing US-Taiwanese military relations have increasingly been played out in public amid growing tensions with mainland China.

U.S. Marine Corps special operators from the Marine Raider Regiment recently began conducting drills on the island, Taiwan’s Naval Command confirmed to Taiwan News on November 9, 2020. While U.S. forces have trained in Taiwan, this fact has generally not been publicized by either American or Taiwanese officials since 1979. That year, the U.S. government officially recognized the Communist regime in Beijing as the sole legitimate authority in China and formally severed diplomatic ties with the Nationalist government in Taipei. At the same time, the United States has reserved the right to continue supporting Taiwan and its military until there is a final settlement over its status vis-a-vis the mainland.  

A statement from Taiwan’s Naval Command described the drills as “routine Taiwan-U.S. military exchange and cooperation training,” which it said were designed to enhance the combat capabilities of its own troops. The Marine Raiders also reportedly undertook two weeks of coronavirus-related quarantine prior to beginning the exercise.

Taiwan’s United Daily News had previously reported that the Marine Raiders will be supervising Taiwanese Marines in skills including assault boat and speedboat infiltration operations at the Tsoying Naval Base in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan. This would make sense considering the maritime skill sets of the Marine Raiders and the kinds of missions that Taiwan’s Marines, as well as its own maritime special operations forces, could be called upon to perform during a conflict with China.

As we noted earlier, the U.S. military is known to send troops from various branches, including other special operations units, to Taiwan for joint training, but it is rare for these engagements to be publicized in any way. Prime examples include the regular iterations of Exercise Balance Tamper, a so-called Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) event that sees U.S. Army Special Forces working alongside Republic of China Army Aviation elements and Taiwan’s Special Forces Command. 

A rare video from the U.S. Army’s 1st Special Forces Group that briefly appeared earlier this year showed Green Berets training on Taiwan during a recent Balance Tamper exercise. The maneuvers apparently also involved a Republic of China Army special operations unit, the 101st Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, also known as the Sea Dragon Frogmen. You can read more about that whole episode in this previous War Zone story, which was published before the video was removed.

USMC

MARSOC operators during a training exercise. 

These latest maneuvers in Taiwan involving the Marine Raiders also come at a time in which the Republic of China Marine Corps is being strengthened in order to enhance the country’s amphibious warfare capabilities as tensions between Taipei and Beijing continue to rise. Taiwan News reports that an additional $28.8 million has been added to the island’s budget for its Marine Corps to fund new equipment including special operations raiding craft, thermal imagers, and boarding equipment.

This all suggests that a particular focus is being placed on infiltration and interdiction missions, as well as reconnaissance, reflected also in this latest exercise with the Raiders. In particular, in a conflict scenario, Taiwan is expected to deploy special operations teams to various islands in or near the Taiwan Strait from where they would be able to harass Chinese forces, delaying their advance, or perhaps even launching raids on the mainland. These forces could also act as an early warning force of an impending invasion via the collection of critical intelligence during clandestine amphibious operations.

U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Ryan Conroy 

A U.S. Marine and an airman perform scout swimmer training during Marine Special Operations School’s Individual Training Course at Key West, Florida.

Taiwan’s special forces could also be learning from the Raiders as they refine tactics designed to counter amphibious landings. The People’s Liberation Army Navy, meanwhile, is busy expanding its amphibious warfare capabilities, most prominently by constructing the powerful new Type 075 class of big-deck amphibious assault ship.  

In recent weeks, Taiwan has also revealed other military training drills intended to increase survivability during a potential invasion from the mainland, including urban warfare maneuvers by the Republic of China Army during the Combat Readiness Week exercises, which you can read more about here.

U.S. MARINE CORPS

Beyond all this, the rare official confirmation of U.S. special operations forces training in Taiwan goes to show how the U.S. government under the Trump administration has increasingly shown its support for Taiwan in more visible ways. The U.S. stance has included sending warships and aircraft through the Taiwan Strait and approving significant arms sales to the Taiwanese military, and Beijing has not surprisingly taken a dim view of all these developments.

Now, the acknowledgment that the Marine Raider Regiment has also been training on the island is the latest expression of this increasingly open military relationship that is bound to antagonize the powers that be in Beijing.

UPDATE: 11/11/2020

The Pentagon has pushed back against reports that U.S. Marine Corps Raiders are training in Taiwan. Pentagon spokesman John Supple told Stars and Stripes on Nov. 11, 2020, that these reports were "inaccurate," but declined to elaborate. He also underscored that "the United States remains committed to our One-China Policy," which recognizes the government in Beijing as the sole legitimate authority in China. He made no apparent mention of the U.S. government's continued relationship with the government in Taiwan under the authority granted by the Taiwan Relations Act.

For its part, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense has declined to further confirm or deny these reports, which now includes a story from Taiwan's government-owned Central News Agency.

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com