Small Wars Journal

We Need an American Foreign Legion

Fri, 05/20/2016 - 2:18pm

We Need an American Foreign Legion by Sean McFate, Washington Post

President Obama recently announced that an additional 250 Special Operations forces will be sent to Syria to stem the spread of the Islamic State. It won’t work. By now, “too little, too late” has become the moniker of the administration’s Middle East policy. To be fair, the policy of Obama’s predecessor wasn’t effective either. What is needed is a new piece on the chessboard: an American Foreign Legion.

… The United States has traditionally had four options. The first is isolationism: Do nothing. This means ceding the battle to the terrorists and watching them grow from a distance until they reach our shores. Few would want this.

The second strategy is to send in Special Operations forces, as Obama is doing…

The third option is Iraq War III…

The fourth option is relying on military contractors…

There is a fifth, more acceptable option: Create an American Foreign Legion. When people think of foreign legions, they think of French mercenaries. But the French Foreign Legion is a part of the French military, is led by French officers, takes its orders exclusively from Paris, offers its legionnaires the opportunity to apply for French citizenship and serves only the French government. It’s like a French army unit, except that its enlisted members come from all over the world…

Read on.



Sat, 06/04/2016 - 3:54pm

In reply to by flagg


An interesting question: I wonder if 32 Battalion in the South West African bush war of the 1970's-1980's would be a model to consider for COIN/Conventional close proxy operations?

One must remember that the African element came from the defeated FNLA in Angola, whose life chances were slim if they remained. Add in mainly South African white officers, who at the start would not have seen apartheid ending. 32 Bn. fought mainly in contested southern Angola, as a conventional unit, until 1989 and was disbanded in 1993 after a notorious use of firepower in South Africa. See:

Another option would be a para-military unit such as Koevoet, which recruited locals and used a mix of local "South Westers" and South African Police officers.

I do wonder if the USA could politically use such formations IF they committed atrocities - which both 32 Bn & Koevoet were alleged to have done.

A key feature of the French Foreign Legion is they are NOT locally recruited and rarely had those with local links (Algeria maybe an exception). Secondly France would remove them back to French territory.

I thought the US already had its own foreign legion in the form of proxy forces created by US Army Special Forces?

Not exactly permanent and controlled foreign legions but temporary and influenced foreign legions via UW mission.

Would a simpler/easier to execute option be some hybrid combination of FID/UW in creating and funding locally relevant permanent forces with Special Forces ODA/ODB holding key staff and leadership appointments and long-term/permanent duty station forward deployed?

Or perhaps a mission pivot and expansion off of the Jedburgh Program?

Also, would it be a valid option for CIA to contract retired US Army SF with high AO SME to recruit, train, fund, lead overt/discrete proxy forces?

I wonder if 32 Battalion in the South West African bush war of the 1970's-1980's would be a model to consider for COIN/Conventional close proxy operations?

Just some random thoughts.


Tue, 05/31/2016 - 1:56pm

Whatever the cited advantages of such an American Foreign Legion it is necessary to think a lot harder about such a unit.

The French Foreign Legion is cited in 2007 as having up to 24% French other ranks, the remainder are reportedly mainly from Eastern Europe and in 2008, members come from 140 countries. Today the vast majority serve in France. It is a well known route to obtaining French citizenship. Not to overlook its long history (formed in 1831), history and traditions - all things an American equivalent would lack. See:

Would granting those who served US citizenship be politically acceptable?

Perhaps a better option would be to fund France recruiting additional soldiers for missions outside France?

Has the USA a good record dealing with locally recruited forces outside the USA?

Great idea. Such a force could/should be based outside of the US, preferably near potential "hot-spots". I'd also recommend that their pay be based on cost-of-living factors from the countries they come from & not what US troops currently make.....this will keep costs down while still attracting folks from across the world. This idea would also give us a force made up of people with the language skills and cultural understanding of areas we are likely to be involved in.