The U.S. has sharply increased the amount of military training it provides to countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), according to new analysis.
The number of trainees grew by 49% in the space of just a year, from 7,880 in the 2014 financial year to 11,731 trainees in 2015 (the most recent comprehensive figures available), according to the Security Assistance Monitor (SAM), part of Washington-based think-tank the Center for International Policy.
The figures are based on an analysis of the most recent annual Joint Report to Congress by the State and Defence departments, which was released earlier this year. Overall, the number of foreign military personnel trained by the U.S. grew from 56,346 in 2014 to 79,865 in 2015.
In terms of the figures for the Middle East, 4,164 of the trainees were from Lebanon. That made it the fourth largest recipient of training globally, behind Burundi, Rwanda and Colombia. Within the MENA region, Lebanon jumped ahead of the previous year’s leader Saudi Arabia, which fell back to second place. The next largest recipients of U.S. military training in the region were Egypt, the UAE, Jordan and Tunisia.
In the past, the main channel through which training was offered has been the foreign military sales program, but there has been a notable increase in activity via Section 1004 counter-drug and counter-transnational organized crime programs. The latter was the reason for the surge in training provided to Lebanese forces. According to SAM, there were 3,424 Lebanese trainees for the Section 1004 programs, with the aim of stemming a key source of income for the local militant group Hezbollah.
Among other areas, the U.S. also increased training for Egyptian crew on sea vessels, through the foreign military financing program, And at least 641 trainees from Saudi Arabia were due to receive training on seven types of U.S. military aircraft, some of which have been used in the controversial conflict in Yemen, including the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle fighter jet. A Saudi-operated Black Hawk was shot down in Yemen last month.
The total amount of military and security training provided to the region by the U.S. is probably much higher than the figures suggested by this analysis, as the Joint Report only includes data on 17 out of more than 100 security aid-related accounts or programs funded by the Homeland Security, Defense and State departments and the foreign military sales program. SAM notes that some Defense Department-funded programs, such as the Iraq Train and Equip Fund, are excluded, as is most training of foreign police forces.
The training programs provided by the U.S. help to underpin sales of military equipment to the region. Nonetheless, SAM suggests that its analysis could point towards some of the initiatives the Trump administration may reduce or eliminate as part of its effort to reduce U.S. foreign aid.
Some areas have already been cut, at least in regard to the Middle East. In 2015, there was a sharp decrease in rule of law-related training to countries in the MENA region. The U.S. provided training on issues such as human rights, civilian control and rule of law to just 109 individuals from the region in 2015, a 44% drop from the previous year.
Lebanon was also the leading recipient of this training, followed by Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Palestine. The previous year, Yemen had led the way, followed by Palestine. In 2015, Bahraini forces received no such training, despite the widespread criticism of the actions of its security forces towards opposition politicians and activists.
The reduction in training in this area is a potential cause of concern for some observers. “Numerous studies have shown the importance of U.S. assistance focused on strengthening foreign security institutions,” said Colby Goodman, director of SAM. “The Trump administration would do well to follow the advice of these studies.”
This article was written by Dominic Dudley from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.