US permanently deploys military trainers to Taiwan

On February 10th, 2024, it was reported that, for the first time, US special forces troops would be permanently stationed in Taiwan, rather than as part of a temporary or rotational arrangement. The deployment of American troops to Taiwan challenges China's "One China" policy, where the US is expected to recognize Beijing as the legitimate government of all China, including Taiwan.
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Taiwanese Army special forces disembarked from a Blackhawk helicopter during an 11-day training exercise near Taichung in December 2023 (Picture source: Ministry of national Defense)

According to sources based in Taiwan, the 1st Special Forces Group is this year permanently stationed at two bases of the 101st Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, a Taiwanese army special operations force. Some of the US special forces are based on Kinmen, a group of fortified Taiwanese-controlled islands just 10 kilometers from the Chinese port city of Xiamen. Another group is stationed on the Pescadores islands off the Taiwanese coast in the Taiwan Strait.

While the US troops are ostensibly involved in training Taiwanese forces, their positioning also facilitates intelligence gathering on movements in the Taiwan Strait and on the Chinese coast, where Xiamen hosts naval and air force bases. American troops are also present at a military base in Taoyuan, in northern Taiwan, involved in training the Taiwanese military in the use of drones for its Airborne Special Service Company, an elite special forces unit.

Neither Washington nor Taipei has provided details on the number of US trainers or the training provided. It was only in 2021 that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen officially confirmed American special forces were in Taiwan training local forces. The US Defense Department acknowledged the presence of 30 American soldiers, but only to guard the American Institute in Taiwan, which functions as an unofficial US embassy in Taipei. Taiwan's Defense Minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng, stated that American instructors had worked with Taiwanese forces under different administrations and did not consider the deployment to be a permanent US military presence on the island.

When Washington established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, it closed its embassy in Taipei, ending formal diplomatic ties, and maintained only low-key unofficial contact. While continuing arms sales to Taipei, the US ended its longstanding military pact with Taiwan and withdrew all its military forces.

Under the presidencies of Trump and now Biden, the US has increased arms sales, including offensive weaponry, and stationed American trainers in Taiwan. The Biden administration welcomed last month's election of Lai Ching-te, the candidate of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), as Taiwanese president.

Moreover, a Taiwanese military contingent was scheduled to travel to the US for training by the Michigan National Guard, including participation in annual exercises with multiple countries at Camp Grayling in northern Michigan.

Defense News February 2024