American special forces have been secretly training troops in Taiwan for months. A Pentagon official told the AFP news agency Thursday that a contingent of about 20 U.S. soldiers has been training Taiwanese Army and Navy personnel for less than a year. The official, who wished to remain anonymous, was largely confirming a Wall Street Journal report on the deployment of a task force as well as Marines in Taiwan. The operation could further inflame military tensions between China, Taiwan and the United States.
Officially, Pentagon spokesman John Supple stated, "Our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains focused on the current threat from the People's Republic of China." Taiwan's Defense Ministry, on the other hand, declined to comment.
The latent, ever-present military tensions between Beijing and Taipei have increased significantly in recent years. The People's Republic of China sees the democratically governed island as part of its national territory that is to be reunited with the mainland - by military force if necessary. The United States is Taiwan's most important ally and the only state that still supplies it with weapons on a large scale. Warships of the U.S. and allied nations such as Great Britain and France repeatedly cross the international waters of the Taiwan Strait, which Beijing calls a provocation. However, they do not dock in Taiwan.
The United States had official relations with Taipei rather than Beijing until 1979. At that time, there was a defense agreement with the Republic of China, as the state on Taiwan is officially called, and numerous American troops were stationed on the island. That ended with the severance of diplomatic relations under President Jimmy Carter.
In return, the U.S. Congress enacted a law, still in effect today, that requires the government to prevent a violent change in Taiwan's status quo. It is also the basis for American arms deliveries.
In 2019, the U.S. had confirmed that some active-duty soldiers - including Marines - have been in Taiwan since as early as 2005 to protect its unofficial mission, as is also customary for U.S. embassies. In 2020, the U.S. mission said that since 2016, U.S. Army technical specialists have been training and advising Taiwan's military on the ground.
A year ago, the Taiwanese press, citing the government's naval command, had reported that U.S. marines and special forces had arrived in Taiwan to train Taiwanese forces. However, these reports were denied at the time by Taiwanese and U.S. authorities.
Observers believe it likely that the Pentagon itself now launched the news of the special forces deployment to emphasize Taiwan's importance and discourage Beijing from risky military action.
Recently, an unusually large number of Chinese fighter jets had entered Taiwan's air defense zone on several days. Taiwan's defense minister warned that by 2025 the People's Republic could be militarily prepared for an attack.
In addition to its role as a threatened democracy, Taiwan, with its population of 23 million, is the most important location for the global semiconductor industry. Moreover, its location in the so-called "first island chain" separating China from the Pacific Ocean gives it great strategic importance for both the United States and the People's Republic. It is considered conceivable that with Taiwan under its control, Beijing could cut off sea routes to U.S. allies Japan and South Korea.