Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations on 13 December, US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, told the audience he sees America’s foreign military training programme as a “critical long-term investment,” one that “makes for great partnerships […] I want to increase that by 50 percent over the coming five years.”

According to official sources, there are some 5,100 foreign military students from 153 countries currently in the US for some form of security cooperation training. There is a temporary moratorium on new students enrolling while the Department of Defense (DoD) institutes new vetting and screening procedures are put in place following the deadly shooting earlier this month at Naval Air Station Pensacola, FL, by a Saudi student, who killed three and wounded eight.

Despite political fallout from the shooting, military leaders are robust in their support for the foreign military training programme. Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, CA, at the beginning of this month, US Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen David Goldfein, told the audience that one of the advantages the US has is that “We have allies and partners, and often our adversaries don’t […] My biggest concern would be that we would walk away from those key relationships, folks we know that we need when we go into combat.”

DoD has not yet revealed exactly when new screening procedures will be in place, but observers close to the proceedings tell MTSC they expect it to be soon. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how readily – and how quickly – Secretary Esper’s aspiration to expand the programme can be realized.

Dr Mark T Esper, US Secretary of Defense. (Photo: US Army)

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