WASHINGTON -- The Army's Special Forces or "Green Berets" are strengthening the Mongolian military through $23 million of funding to a mobile training team, a special operations commander said Wednesday morning.
As the threat of Russia and China continues to grow, relationships with partner nations like Mongolia take increased importance as the Army looks to consolidate its competitive advantage in the Asia-Pacific region, explained Col. Owen Ray, 1st Special Forces Group commander.
"The threats that we do face, everything from counter-terrorism to active competition with a near-peer competitor, are growing," said Ray during a media roundtable at the Pentagon. "The value is our enduring relationships that strengthen and assure our Allies and partners."
The Mongolian army requested the training unit to better support their U.N. peacekeeping deployments. This training team can travel throughout Mongolia's countryside and remote regions to train Mongolian Soldiers on small-unit tactics, medical tasks, communications, platoon-level mission planning, base security and convoy operations.
Ray said the Army has increased its engagement with the Asian nation the past two years, as Mongolia has been a key partner after providing support to NATO and U.S. Soldiers during operations in Afghanistan.
Operating in the Indo-Pacific region poses numerous travel and logistics challenges for special operations Soldiers, said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Lake, who recently returned from a six-month tour to Mongolia.
Lake said special ops Soldiers must weather those hurdles to maintain relationships with partner nations like Mongolia. Peer relationships can be crucial to maintaining a competitive edge over potential adversaries, he said.
"These relationships that we're building … will continue on in the future and they will be a good partner in the region," Lake said of the Mongolian military.
The 1st Special Forces Group, consisting of about 2,500 Green Berets, combat support and combat service support Soldiers, have limited resources but small, specialized units can make a big difference, said Command Sgt. Maj. Eric Curran, 4th Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group.
"We can't be everywhere," said Ray. "We're a limited sized force and we have to work through our partners for them to be able to solve some of their own issues."
The successes of the Special Forces' participation in joint combined exchange training programs help make partner nations self-reliant and give U.S. forces a greater strategic advantage, Ray said. He cited the Philippine Army's success in the city of Marawi where Filipino forces successfully defeated ISIS with limited U.S. assistance. The 60-year relationship and U.S. enduring partnership with the Philippines has improved the effectiveness of their forces, he said.
"We're not training them to shoot anymore," said Curran, who advised in the creation of the Philippine Light Reaction Company 19 years ago and has maintained relationships with them since. "We're training them how to command and control to the degree of mission command."
Ray said exercises like Cobra Gold and the recent Balikatan exercise in the Philippines helps build resilience against peer competitors and potential adversaries. Ray noted one change in this year's exercise: Filipino forces requested a "forced-entry taking back sovereign terrain" training resembling a possible threat by Russia or China.
"Our approach is to work multi-laterally," Ray said, "to bring in different partner nations to focus on their ability to defend their own sovereignty, to build their resilience to coercion."