US special operations forces have been quietly training Taiwanese troops for months, risking the wrath of China, a Pentagon official said Thursday.
A contingent of about 20 special and conventional operations forces has been undergoing the training for less than a year, the official, who declined to be named, told AFP, adding that some of the trainers rotate on and off.
The official largely confirmed a Wall Street Journal report that said the training has been going on for at least a year, amid growing verbal threats from China against the US island ally.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry declined to comment on the report, but Pentagon spokesman John Supple said that, broadly speaking, US support for the Taiwanese military is measured by its defense needs.
“Our support and our advocacy relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China,” Supple said in a statement.
“We urge Beijing to fulfill its commitment to the peaceful resolution of cross-strait differences.”
Taiwanese media reported last November, citing the Taiwan Naval Command, that US troops had arrived there to train Taiwanese Marines and special forces in amphibious and small boat operations.
But those reports were later denied by US and Taiwanese officials, who stressed that the two sides are only involved in bilateral military exchanges and cooperation.
The United States supplies Taiwan with weapons, including defense missiles and fighter jets, amid Beijing’s threat to forcibly retake control of the island and reintegrate it with China.
The United States also has an ambiguous commitment to defend Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.
A video released last year and featured in Taiwanese media showed US troops participating in an exercise on the island called “Balance Tamper.”
Chinese forces have stepped up their activities toward Taiwan last year, conducting assault exercises by sea and flying large sorties of bombers and fighters near Taiwan’s airspace.
On Monday, Taiwan reorganized its own air force after a record 56 Chinese fighter jets crossed its air defense zone.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price called the Chinese activity “destabilizing” and “provocative.”
“We strongly urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure and coercion against Taiwan,” he said, calling the US commitment to the island “rock solid.”