U.S. Foreign Military Training to Benin, Mexico, and Ukraine Spike in 2016

The number of U.S. foreign military trainees increased substantially in FY 2016, growing from 79,865 trainees in FY 2015 to 128,280 trainees in FY 2016, according to the recent release of the State Department’s U.S. “Foreign Military Training” report. The huge increase in U.S. foreign military training comes from the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund, which for the first time was included in the State Department’s annual report. There were notable changes in U.S. military training to Benin, Burundi, Mexico, Tokelau, and Ukraine. It also appears Saudi Arabia is proposed to receive significant military training in FY 2017.

According to the report, the top five recipients of U.S. foreign military training in FY 2016 were in rank order: Afghanistan, Mexico, Lebanon, Colombia, and Ukraine. Afghanistan had a total 7,902 trainees between FY 2010 and FY 2015; yet in FY 2016, there were 49,228 trainees in Afghanistan due in large part to the Afghan Security Forces Fund. Mexico rose to the top five in FY 2016 because of an increase in the number of trainees (at 5,207 in FY 2016) in Defense Department-funded counternarcotics aid. The United States also substantially increased training to Ukraine, but the report doesn’t identify the types of courses most trainees received. Unlike in previous years, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda did not make it in the top five recipients of U.S. foreign military training.


In FY 2016, the U.S. government allocated $3.6 billion dollars for the Afghan Security Forces Fund, making it the second largest U.S. security aid program by dollar value in that year. It, however, is unclear why the program wasn’t included in previous reports. The Defense Department’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has criticized aspects of the U.S. security forces training under this program. A June 2017 SIGAR report found “16 allegations of child sexual abuse involving Afghan security forces reported by U.S. and Afghan troops from 2010 to 2016.” Furthermore, SIGAR stated that both the Defense and State Departments continued to fund these units “despite credible allegations of ‘gross violations of human rights,’ including child rape.”

The State Department’s foreign military training report also revealed other noteworthy trends in military training for Africa. In FY 2015, the United States provided military training to 1,918 military personnel from Benin. In FY 2016, Benin’s military trainees increased to 3,349, which was the second highest in the African region. The increase was as a result of an increase in the number of individuals receiving State Department-funded Peacekeeping Operations program aid, mostly for Benin’s participation in the UN’s Peacekeeping Mission in Mali. Conversely, U.S. military training to Burundi dropped from 8,291 trainees in FY 2015 to 74 trainees in FY 2016 because of U.S. concerns about the Burundian military’s involvement in crackdowns on civil rights, forced exile, and ethnically charged rhetoric.

Egypt also had a stark decrease in the number of trainees from FY 2015 to FY 2016. In FY 2015, there were 1,407 trainees; whereas in FY2016, there were 477 (a decrease of 930 trainees). The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) issued a report to Congress in April 2016 stating it had “determined that the U.S. government did not conduct required vetting before providing training for some of the Egyptian security forces," and that "[b]y not conducting all required human rights vetting prior to providing U.S. training to Egyptian security forces, State and DOD [were] not in compliance with their policies regarding human rights vetting."

The State Department’s report also provides data about the number of potential military trainees for FY 2017. While the FY 2017 data is not as complete as the FY 2016 data, it is likely that the United States trained high numbers of foreign military personnel from Afghanistan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Ukraine in FY 2017. The United States was also slated to significantly increase military training to the tiny island country of Tokelau. Prior to the current State Department report, Tokelau’s trainee numbers had never been released and/or the country never participated in U.S. military training. Tokelau’s numbers of military trainees increased from 510 in FY 2016 to 1,200 proposed trainees in FY 2017. The largest numbers of proposed trainees for FY 2017 were set to receive training in counternarcotics efforts.

Breanna Heilicher is an intern at Security Assistance Monitor and covers a range of US security assistance issues. Colby Goodman is the director of the Security Assistance Monitor where he leads research and analysis on U.S. foreign security assistance around the world.