US Army, Marines Special Forces Lack Foreign Language Proficiency: GAO

Most special operations troops from the US Army and Marine Corps lack foreign language proficiency to effectively operate overseas, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found.

Language skills are deemed vital for Special Operations Forces (SOF) because they are frequently deployed to collaborate with foreign militaries.

Under existing doctrines, at least 80 percent of personnel within a SOF unit is required to meet a minimum level of foreign language proficiency.

But the GAO said most units are falling short.

“We found that no more than three of the eight active-duty Army SOF formations under the control of 1st Special Forces Command had 80 percent of personnel achieve the minimum proficiency goal [between 2018 and 2022],” the report stated.

The watchdog further disclosed that the lack of foreign language proficiency among US Army and Marine Corps SOF units is largely because of the absence of consistent consequences for failing to meet the goals.

Missing Annual Training Goals

The GAO, which provides investigative services for the US Congress, said that some special operations personnel are not meeting their annual training goals.

In the army alone, less than half recorded completing annual foreign language sustainment and enhancement training from 2018 to 2022.

Furthermore, there is reportedly a failure to routinely assess if foreign languages assigned to SOF units are relevant to their partner forces and the community they would operate in.

For example, some troops assigned to speak Russian reported being in countries where speaking Russian is “culturally offensive.”

US special operations forces
US special operations forces during training. Photo: US Army


The GAO report claimed that unit commanders within the US Army and Marine Corps Special Operations Commands are often not held accountable for monitoring if their personnel complete annual foreign language training.

The military should reportedly take additional steps to ensure that commanders will fulfill their duties and that SOF personnel are able to communicate with allies.

The watchdog also suggested monitoring the relevancy of assigned languages at deployment locations and enforcing consistent consequences when foreign language proficiency standards are not met.

The US Department of Defense agreed with all recommendations.

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