WASHINGTON, Feb 23 (Reuters) – The United States is set to expand the number of troops helping train Taiwanese forces, two U.S. officials said on Thursday, at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing.
Reuters reported in 2021 that a small number of U.S. special operations forces have been rotating into Taiwan on a temporary basis to train their forces.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the Pentagon was expected to increase that number in the coming months.
One of the officials said the exact number of increased troops was unclear, but the move was unrelated to recent tensions over the shootdown of a Chinese spy balloon which flew across the United States.
The balloon caused a political uproar in Washington and prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a trip to Beijing that both countries had hoped would steady their rocky relations.
“We don’t have a comment on specific operations, engagements, or training, but I would highlight that our support for, and defense relationship with, Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China,” a Pentagon spokesman said.
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Speaking to reporters in Taipei on Friday, Taiwan Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said he “didn’t know” the source of the information about expanded training. He added Taiwan and the United States had a lot of military interaction, and declined further comment.
The news was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Taiwan’s official Central News Agency this week reported that a battalion of around 500 soldiers would go to the United States for training this year.
Chu indirectly confirmed that some soldiers would head to the United States for training that would be more tactical than in the past, but did not provide details of numbers.
China sees Taiwan as a wayward province and has not ruled out taking the island by force. Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its democracy and freedom.
The United States is Taiwan’s largest supplier of weaponry and has long offered some degree of training on weapons systems, as well as detailed advice on ways to strengthen its military to guard against an invasion by China’s Peoples Liberation Army.
Reporting by Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jamie Freed