Pentagon Quietly Scraps Plans To Train With Militaries From Countries Accused Of Coups, Major Rights Abuses

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The Pentagon quietly suspended military partnerships with countries implicated in coups and human rights abuses, The Washington Post reported, citing U.S. officials.

Plans disclosed to Congress in October and viewed by the Post revealed the Pentagon’s intent to hold joint exercises with militaries from several African nations, including those subject to legal bans on receiving U.S. security assistance. Defense Department (DOD) officials later said at least six of the armies — Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger and Sudan — were no longer participating in the exercises without explanation, according to the outlet.

The U.S. “never had an intention” to partner with countries legally prohibited from doing so, a defense official told the Post on condition of anonymity. A second defense official said the list submitted was not set in stone and that other countries could still be excluded from the plans. (RELATED: US Spent Years Funding And Training The African Military That Just Overthrew Its US-Backed Gov’t)

Documents viewed by the Post revealed plans to cooperate with at least a dozen foreign militaries the Biden administration and other nations have condemned for participating in coups or perpetrating severe abuses, including extrajudicial killings. It was unclear whether the Pentagon also plans to halt scheduled trainings with the remaining half-dozen countries implicated in coups and grave abuse.

Democrats recently pressured the Biden administration to suspend partnerships with the offending countries. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin of Maryland and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Wednesday demanding guarantees no troops associated with coups be allowed to take part in U.S.-led security exercises, the Post reported.

“We further request that foreign security force units receiving assistance … are subject to [human rights] vetting, as required by law,” the senators wrote, according to the Post, which said it obtained a copy of the letter.

DOD opted to suspend the joint exercises “due to legal and/or policy restrictions,” the first U.S. defense official told the Post, without getting into specifics.

But as of Dec. 20, when the Pentagon last updated Congress on its plans, all six of the since-excluded countries remained on the list, another U.S. government official told the Post.

The DOD did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

The Pentagon came under fire in August for persisting with security cooperation with Niger, one of the banned countries, after major elements of the Nigerien military expelled the president and took over leadership.

The Pentagon attempted to distance itself from elements of the Nigerien junta who previously trained or cooperated with the U.S. as recently as July, just before the attempted coup.

The White House and DOD defended their plans, emphasizing the distinction between military training programs and other security aid. Joint training ensures “seamless” coordination and better prepares U.S. troops to respond to a crisis, Lisa Lawrence, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told the Post.

“In some case, it is more effective to remain engaged with certain partners so the partner remains aware of U.S. ethos, values, and concerns and uphold human rights standards,” Lawrence said.

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