US to deploy more troops to Taiwan to train local army

RFA staff
US to deploy more troops to Taiwan to train local army Shooting training at Gaoshanding Camp, Taoyuan County, Taiwan, Feb. 21, 2023.
Taiwan Ministry of Defense

The Pentagon plans to quadruple the number of American troops in Taiwan and Taipei is to send a combined arms battalion to the United States, both for training purposes in the face of a growing threat from China, according to media reports.

The United States will deploy between 100 and 200 troops to Taiwan to bolster a training program for the local military, a report published by the Wall Street Journal on Thursday quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying. 

As of September 2022, the Pentagon had 39 personnel stationed in Taiwan, including 23 on active duty from all four military branches, according to the U.S. Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC).

The unnamed officials who were quoted said this deployment was “planned for months” to help strengthen the island’s self-defense against potential attacks from China, and was not connected with the latest dip in Sino-U.S. relations after the Pentagon shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon.

“This is a good development,” said Grant Newsham, a former U.S. Marine colonel and diplomat. “Even 100 or 200 troops can have a positive effect on Taiwan’s military if they are properly deployed.”

“Taiwan’s military needs as much direct exposure to other militaries as possible as it has been isolated for over 40 years and its capability development has languished as a result,” said Newsham, who spent a whole year studying Taiwan’s defense in 2019.

In his opinion, both militaries should work on a joint operation planning “for future contingencies.”

Several prominent figures in the U.S. military have predicted different timelines for a possible Chinese invasion and urged the island’s leadership to build up defense capabilities.

China aircraft.jpg
Aircraft of the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conduct a joint combat training exercise around the Taiwan Island, Aug. 7, 2022. [Xinhua]

‘Handcuffed by fear of CCP’

Newsham told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that there’s “also a psychological aspect” as the U.S. new deployment would bolster confidence “with the military, the government, and the public at large.”  

“This matters as much as new tactics, techniques, and procedures the military might learn,” he said, adding, “Never overlook the ‘mental’ aspects of a national defense.”

By law, Washington is obligated to help Taiwan to strengthen its defenses but every movement is being closely watched by Beijing, which considers Taiwan a Chinese province and threatens to take it back by force if needed.

According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. officials were apparently mindful of possible reactions from Beijing when they said that it’s “a question that is constantly being evaluated and looked at specifically with every decision involving support to Taiwan.”

“This is worrisome. It suggests that American support for Taiwan is still handcuffed by fear of the Chinese Communist Party,” Newsham said.

“If America indicates it will back down if seriously pressured by Beijing, China will have the advantage, and is far more likely to use force against Taiwan,” he added.

Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng, when asked about the U.S. deployment plan, only said that “more information needs to be gathered to provide a thorough explanation.”

‘Radical change’

Meanwhile the official Central News Agency (CNA) quoted Taiwanese military experts who said that Taipei is to send a combined arms battalion to the United States for training in the second half of this year at.

The CNA said in a report that the joint battalion will be composed mainly of soldiers from the Army’s 333rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade and 542nd Armor Brigade. A battalion has around 500 troops.

Up to now, Taiwan has only sent platoon-level (25-60 troops) and company-level (80-150 troops) teams to the U.S. as part of military exchanges.   

Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng again didn’t confirm the report but neither did he deny it.

This new development “would be a radical change in U.S. foreign policy, if true,” said Wendell Minnick, a Taiwan-based U.S. defense analyst.

The U.S. has allowed Taiwanese military personnel to attend schools, such as SEAL, or special ops, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and the U.S. Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, according to Minnick.

Taiwan also has a training squadron of F-16 fighters at Luke Air Base in Arizona but “to send a battalion of men would be hard to believe,” the expert said.

“One problem is these men are needed here. A battalion would be a lot of manpower needed for a war,” Minnick told RFA.

Chinese exercise-cropped.jpg
Chinese navy vessels take part in a drill in Zhoushan in east China’s Zhejiang province, Oct. 19, 2012. [AP Photo/File]

Newsham meanwhile argued that an increase in troop numbers would be a good thing as “it’s important to operate with a fairly large unit, also to expose larger numbers of troops to a different environment and a new training setting.”

“This is how a military improves.”

A report released last month by the influential Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington said that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would not succeed should the U.S. and Japan back Taipei but it would come at a high cost for all involved. 

The report predicted that a Taiwan-U.S.-Japan alliance could defeat a “conventional amphibious invasion by China” and maintain an autonomous Taiwan. However, they would lose “dozens of ships, hundreds of aircraft, and tens of thousands of service members.” 

“China’s leaders have become increasingly strident” about unifying the island with the mainland, therefore a military invasion is “not out of the question,” the report said.


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