They had him at their mercy. The burly man, hooded and helpless, sat on the ground as his two captors — a soldier dressed in black from helmet to boots, another clad in camouflage, both with rifles slung on their backs — grabbed him by his armpits and hauled him to his feet. A dark Mercedes minivan snaked up the dirt road toward them, as two other soldiers in full camouflage scanned the bare tree line with their automatic weapons at the ready. The van pulled up, its door slid open, and the men, captors and victim, were gone. It looked like a scene out of a thriller starring Liam Neeson or Jason Statham.
It was, indeed, something of a fiction.
In March, members of the U.S. Special Operations forces traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina to train with local special police units. Carried out at Bosnia and Herzegovina’s national training center in Manjaca, the arrest demonstration, chronicled in an official video, was part of the first-of-its-kind Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) in the Balkan nation.
The training program was part of a shadowy and growing global engagement strategy involving America’s most secretive and least scrutinized troops. Since 9/11, Special Ops forces have expanded in almost every conceivable way — from budget to personnel to overseas missions — with JCETs playing a significant role. Special Operations Command keeps the size and scope of the program a well-guarded secret, refusing to release even basic figures about the number of missions or the countries involved, but documents obtained by The Intercept demonstrate that from 2012 to 2014 some of America’s most elite troops — including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets — carried out 500 Joint Combined Exchange Training missions around the world.