New reports that the U.S. has secretly sent teams of special operations soldiers and Marines to Taiwan to train military forces there has added fresh fuel to rising tensions with an increasingly bellicose China.
About two dozen troops have been conducting training missions with Taiwan‘s ground forces for at least a year, in an effort to shore up the island’s defenses against a possible invasion by Beijing, according to a report this week from The Wall Street Journal.
China has been on a military spending spree for years, rapidly increasing its fleet of warships and combat aircraft, including strategic bombers and jet fighters. In the last week, they’ve seen dozens of military flights near Taiwan. Beijing has claimed sovereignty over the island and has vowed to take control by force if necessary.
U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal that the U.S. troops are being rotated to the island. The news report did not indicate which Army unit is taking part in the secret advisory mission but the 1st Special Forces Group, which focuses on operations within Indo-Pacific Command, has a battalion in Okinawa. Meanwhile, other Special Forces troops are based in Korea.
Ties between the US and China are strained over a variety of issues including human rights, regional security, and trade. When it established diplomatic relations with Beijing, the U.S. agreed to severe formal military ties with Taiwan. However, the U.S. has sold Taiwan billions of dollars worth of military equipment in recent years.
Just before the Journal story broke, China’s air force launched an unprecedented string of sorties into Taiwan‘s claimed defensive zone over a four-day span last weekend, a move the Biden administration condemned as provocative.
The Global Times newspaper, considered a mouthpiece for China‘s Communist Party leaders, said Beijing should consider the U.S. troops in Taiwan as an invasion and confirm that the mainland has the right to carry out military strikes against them.
“We will not make any promises over their safety. Once a war breaks out in the Taiwan Straits, those U.S. military personnel will be the first to be eliminated,” the newspaper said in an editorial. “We must make Washington understand that it is playing a dangerous game that is destined to draw fire onto itself and it is risking the lives of young U.S. soldiers.”