The Intercept received the documents through the Freedom of Information Act, claiming these papers are the first ever official confirmation that at least 14 so-called ‘127e programs’ were active in the greater Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions as recently as 2020. In total, the Pentagon reportedly launched 23 separate 127e programs across the globe between 2017 and 2020, which cost US taxpayers $310 million.
The Intercept explains that 127e is one of several virtually unknown authorities granted to the Department of Defense by Congress over the last two decades. It authorizes US commandos to conduct “counterterrorism operations” in cooperation with foreign and irregular partner forces around the world with minimal outside oversight.
The program allows the US to arm, train, and provide intelligence to foreign forces. However, unlike traditional foreign assistance programs, which focus on building up local capacity in partner countries, 127e “surrogate forces” are expected to follow US orders and conduct Washington-directed missions against US enemies to achieve American goals, essentially serving as the Pentagon’s proxy armies.
According to the outlet, almost no information about these operations is ever shared with any members of Congress or State Department officials. It is generally unknown where these operations are conducted, their frequency, targets, or even the identity of the foreign forces the US cooperates with to carry them out.
Critics of the programs warn that they could lead to unanticipated military escalation and engage the US in over a dozen conflicts around the world, since 127e does not allow for any oversight or input from foreign affairs officials.
The outlet notes that although the latest batch of documents sheds more light on the 127e program, it still remains mostly unknown to both the public and members of Congress, who almost never receive any reports pertaining to the program.
A government official familiar with the program, who requested anonymity to discuss it, told The Intercept that most congressional staffers don’t even have the clearance to view 127e reports, and those who do rarely ask for them.
“It was designed to prevent oversight,” he explained.
Stephen Semler, a co-founder of a US foreign policy think tank, told The Intercept that the Pentagon prefers to run its operations with minimal oversight, input or bureaucracy from Congress and has done so for many years. “The Special Operations community likes autonomy a lot,” he explained to the outlet, adding that “the problem is this stuff is so normalized.”
“There should be more attention paid to these train-and-equip authorities, whether it’s special forces or [Department of Defense] regular, because it’s really kind of a PR-friendly way to sell endless war,” Semler concluded.