Our first guide focused on US law and policy on the use of military force in the context of counterterrorism operations.

The US also conducts operations “by, with, and through” local partners by training, advising, accompanying, or providing intelligence or logistical support. In these cases, US forces may be indirectly involved, or at risk of becoming directly involved, in the conduct of hostilities.

The exact nature and scope of US security assistance activities around the world has been the subject of great scrutiny. The US has approximately 7,300 special forces operating in 92 countries, including 1,200 assigned to missions on the African continent. Some of these forces are legally authorized to train and equip local forces, while others are authorized for more involved “advise and accompany” activities. Although these activities do not usually involve direct participation in hostilities, they can expose US forces – and by extension civilians – to the risks associated with armed conflict.

This risk was illustrated most recently by the October 3, 2017 ambush that led to the deaths of four American special forces and five Nigerien soldiers. Members of Congress have questioned why US forces are engaging in combat in Niger, raised concerns about the US military concealing the true nature of its engagements in the country, and wondered whether the legal authorization to conduct a train-and-equip missions in Niger is “a fig leaf” obscuring a more direct role in the conflict. According to an Intercept report, although troops are initially deployed to an advisory role, once on the ground there is “a tendency to push for more activity and engagement.”

To help you, our readers, understand the US government’s basis for train, equip, advise and accompany missions around the globe, we’ve developed this quick reference guide listing some of the relevant authorities.

Department of Defense Authorities

 The Department of Defense also oversees a number of funding authorities that are used to train, equip, advise, and assist foreign militaries. These funds are also authorized and appropriated by Congress. They include:

  • Section 333, so-called for the section of Title 10 in which was authorized, a new train and equip authority that replaces the longstanding 1206/2282 (discussed below). Section 333 provides a broad authority to train and equip national security forces for counterterrorism operations, counter-weapons of mass destruction operations, counter-illicit drug trafficking operations, counter-transnational organized crime operations, maritime and border security operations, military intelligence operations, and contributions to international coalition operations deemed “in the national interest of the United States.” Programs undertaken under Section 333 require the concurrence of the Secretary of State and joint development with the State Department.


  • Section 1206/2282, so-called initially for the authorizing section 1206 of the 2006 NDAA and later codified in section 2282 of Title 10, provides the Secretary of Defense with authority to train and equip foreign military forces for counterterrorism and stability operations. The availability of these funds expired in late 2017, and funds currently in use will cancel as of 2023. The train and equip activities authorized by 1206/2282 have been subsumed by Section 333, the broader train and equip authority described above.


  • Section 127E, so-called for the section of Title 10 in which it was authorized (formerly known as Section 1208, for its section in the NDAA), which authorizes the DoD to spend up to $100 million during any fiscal year to provide support to “foreign forces, irregular forces, groups, or individuals engaged in supporting or facilitating ongoing military operations by United States special operations forces to combat terrorism.” According to reporting by Politico, the authority has been used to fund classified special operations programs “under which African governments essentially loan out units of their militaries for American commando teams to use as surrogates to hunt militants identified as potential threats to American citizens or embassies.” In some cases, this may mean that US forces encounter direct combat. The US and Nigerien forces killed in Niger in October 2017, for example, were reportedly authorized under Section 127E. Somalia, Libya, Kenya, Tunisia, Cameroon, Mali, and Mauritania have also reportedly hosted US forces under this authorization.


  • Section 1202, so-called for its authorizing section in the 2018 NDAA, which authorizes the DoD to spend up to $10 million during any fiscal year to provide support to “foreign forces, irregular forces, groups, or individuals engaged in supporting or facilitating ongoing and authorized irregular warfare operations by United States Special Operations Forces.” According to a recommendation by the Senate Armed Services Committee, this authority is meant to fill a perceived gap in the US military’s ability to counter its adversaries in “grey zone” conflicts, or those that fall below the threshold of traditional armed conflict. On August 3, 2018, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan issued a memo outlining the policies and procedures for implementing the new authority.

Department of State Authorities

The State Department also oversees a number of the funding authorities that are used to train and equip foreign security forces. These funds are authorized and appropriated by Congress on a country and program basis, and require congressional notification to move funds from one country or program to another. The most widely known of these are the International Military Education and Training program (IMET), Foreign Military Sales (FMS), and Foreign Military Financing (FMF). A number of other activity-specific authorities are also overseen by the State Department. These include:

  • Foreign Military Financing (FMF), which provides grant and loan assistance to friendly foreign countries and international organizations for the acquisition of US defense equipment, services, and training. Not to be confused with government-to-government arms sales under Foreign Military Sales (FMS) or the licensing of commercial items under Direct Commercial Sales (DCS). The FMF account and policy is overseen by the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (State/PM) and implemented by the Department of Defense’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).


  • International Military Education and Training (IMET), which provides training on a grant basis to students from allied and friendly nations. In addition to improving defense capabilities, IMET training is meant to expose foreign students to US professional military organizations and procedures and the manner in which military organizations function under civilian control. A subset of IMET training called Expanded IMET (E-IMET) provides training on the management of defense resources, military justice and international human rights, civilian control of the military, and cooperation between police and military forces for counternarcotic law enforcement. Training and education may occur in the U.S. or abroad through attendance at military educational and training facilities; special courses of instruction at schools and institutions of learning or research; and observation and orientation visits to military facilities. The IMET account and policy is overseen by State/PM and implemented by DSCA.


  • Peacekeeping Operations (PKO), which supports multilateral peacekeeping, capacity building for troop contributing nations, and regional stability operations that are not funded through the UN. Despite its name, this authority is actually quite flexible, and can be used to support a range of stabilization and crisis response programs. Programs supported with PKO funding include the Global Peace Operations Initiative, the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, and the Partnership for East Africa Counterterrorism, among others. According to a 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service, the largest share of PKO funding supports African forces fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia. The PKO account and policy is overseen by State/PM and often implemented by contractors overseen by the State Department or sometimes by US military personnel.


  • Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining, & Related Programs (NADR), which supports US security assistance efforts to military, police, and civilian government actors in four main areas: nonproliferation, anti-terrorism, regional stability, and humanitarian assistance. Programs supported with NADR funding include the Antiterrorism Assistance Program, which provides counterterrorism training to foreign law enforcement agencies, and the Humanitarian Demining Program, which supports efforts to eliminate the threat to civilians resulting from the indiscriminate use of landmines and unexploded ordnance. The NADR account and policy is overseen by State/PM as well as the Bureau of Counterterrorism (State/CT) and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (State/ISN).


  • International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE), which supports country and global programs aimed at combatting transnational crime and illicit threats, including narcotics trafficking, money laundering, corruption, and related terrorist activities; and strengthening law enforcement overseas. Though INCLE funding is designated for law enforcement assistance, programs supported with INCLE funding include the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership and the Partnership for East Africa Counterterrorism, which include cooperation between the military, law enforcement, and civilian actors. The INCLE account and policy is overseen by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (State/INL).


Additional Resources:


Image courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Niles Lee