SMALL TEAMS OF U.S. Special Operations forces are involved in a low-profile proxy war program on a far greater scale than previously known, according to exclusive documents and interviews with more than a dozen current and former government officials.
While The Intercept and other outlets have previously reported on the Pentagon’s use of the secretive 127e authority in multiple African countries, a new document obtained through the Freedom of Information Act offers the first official confirmation that at least 14 127e programs were also active in the greater Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region as recently as 2020. In total, between 2017 and 2020, U.S. commandos conducted at least 23 separate 127e programs across the world.
Separately, Joseph Votel, a retired four-star Army general who headed both Special Operations Command and Central Command, which oversees U.S. military efforts in the Middle East, confirmed the existence of previously unrevealed 127e “counterterrorism” efforts in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.
Another former senior defense official, who requested anonymity to discuss a classified program, confirmed that an earlier version of the 127e program had also been in place in Iraq. A 127e program in Tunisia, code-named Obsidian Tower, which has never been acknowledged by the Pentagon or previously identified as a use of the 127e authority, resulted in combat by U.S. forces alongside local surrogates in 2017, according to another set of documents obtained by The Intercept. A third document, a secret memo that was redacted and declassified for release to The Intercept, sheds light on hallmarks of the program, including use of the authority to provide access to areas of the world otherwise inaccessible even to the most elite U.S. troops.
The documents and interviews provide the most detailed picture yet of an obscure funding authority that allows American commandos to conduct counterterrorism operations “by, with, and through” foreign and irregular partner forces around the world. Basic information about these missions — where they are conducted, their frequency and targets, and the foreign forces the U.S. relies on to carry them out — are unknown even to most members of relevant congressional committees and key State Department personnel.
Through 127e, the U.S. arms, trains, and provides intelligence to foreign forces. But unlike traditional foreign assistance programs, which are primarily intended to build local capacity, 127e partners are then dispatched on U.S.-directed missions, targeting U.S. enemies to achieve U.S. aims. “The foreign participants in a 127-echo program are filling gaps that we don’t have enough Americans to fill,” a former senior defense official involved with the program told The Intercept. “If someone were to call a 127-echo program a proxy operation, it would be hard to argue with them.”
Retired generals with intimate knowledge of the 127e program — known in military parlance as “127-echo” — say that it is extremely effective in targeting militant groups while reducing risk to U.S. forces. But experts told The Intercept that use of the little-known authority raises grave accountability and oversight concerns and potentially violates the U.S. Constitution.
One of the documents obtained by The Intercept puts the cost of 127e operations between 2017 and 2020 at $310 million, a fraction of U.S. military spending over that time period but a significant increase from the $25 million budget allocated to the program when it was first authorized, under a different name, in 2005.
Read the full story at The Intercept.