Special Operations Command Europe
Strengthening Partnerships for Global Security
By Lt. Col. Buck Dellinger
Originally published in the April-June 2012 edition of Special Warfare
United States European Command’s area of operations is endowed with a resilient alliance, major partners with whom we have historical and cultural connections and an emerging group of up-and-coming states that share our interests.1 These states recognize that capable special-operations forces provide a cost efficient means to strengthen their national security and increase their international reputation as they deploy in support of international security efforts. Foreign internal defense or military assistance2 (in NATO terminology) training within the EUCOM AOR with European partners is a wise and sound investment for U.S. SOF that is producing immediate returns in support of the U.S. and our European partners’ national-security interests within EUCOM’s border and beyond.
Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, commander, U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, noted in an article in Special Warfare that the objectives of FID is to influence various audiences, shape the environment, prevent the growth of insurgencies and ultimately deter conflict. In the EUCOM AOR, where institutions and governments are generally stable, some conclude that FID or MA has little application. Contrary to that belief is the fact either assisting or training our partners to conduct FID/MA where our combined national interests intersect has been successful and is a sound use of high-demand U.S. SOF elements. Engagements of Special Forces operational detachments, U.S. Special Operations Command command visits with European partner-nation SOF are strengthening our partners’ abilities to deploy to regions beyond the EUCOM Unified Command Plan borders. In short, the U.S. SOF enterprise expands through and with our allies and partners. Working together, we are more capable.
At the practitioner level, SOCEUR and USSOCOM efforts are formed to fit the specific requirements of each partner nation to strengthen their ability to deploy and succeed in various political environments. Tasks the partner-nation SOF are executing strongly resemble FID tasks in a counterinsurgency environment. Resources committed vary with respect to the requirements of the partner-nation SOF command. The range of activities scales from a single liaison officer up to and including frequent episodic development opportunities, i.e. joint-combined exercise-training partnership-development program events and staff-assistance visits. For our highly-developed partners, a mature SOF operator who provides strategic assistance, coordination and communication is sufficient. For our advancing partners who are committed to the current multi-national contingency efforts, ODA- and ODB-development engagements prepare their equivalents to deploy to Afghanistan or various locations in Africa. Depending on the situation and the relevant authorities, U.S. SOF may or may not deploy alongside their partner-nation SOF. The affect of a small U.S. investment has an exponential positive effect for U.S. interests.
In Afghanistan, U.S. SOF and U.S. general-purpose forces provide various levels of assistance for the participating partner nations; SOCEUR elements are partnered with Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Romanian, Czech, Slovakian and Hungarian SOF. We anticipate that Estonian SOF will join this list. U.S. SOF partnering affiliation with these elements ranges from joint partnership and advisory teams to complete U.S. ODB- and ODA-level partnering. In all cases, the relationship did not start in the deployed region, but in the EUCOM AOR with years of engagement, strengthening assistance, training and other confidence-building measures. Nearly all these events would fall into the FID bin of activities. For the purposes of further description, U.S. SOF support to Polish SOF, Romanian SOF and Czech SOF are instructive as examples of various models for U.S. SOF strengthening a partner-nation military-assistance effort. The common FID/MA task for all three of these PN examples is to prepare provincial response company capability within their particular provinces in Afghanistan. In addition, all three elements began as part of the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom before transitioning to a more self-sufficient role within NATO’s International Security Assistance Force where each operates at the company or task-group level.
Poland has consistently been a staunch ally to the U.S. in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Polish Special Operations Command has two special-operations task groups (company-level task forces) committed to ISAF. U.S. SOF partners with POLSOCOM at every level: from the strategic relationship of USSOCOM and SOCEUR senior-leader engagements down to JPATs assisting with critical enabling capabilities in Afghanistan.
To reinforce mutual security cooperation, USSOCOM has placed a permanent special-operations liaison officer3 in POLSOCOM headquarters. Further, USSOCOM invests in two large staff visits to POLSOCOM each year. SOCEUR conducts habitual staff visits across each directorate several times per quarter, focusing on all aspects of the operational-level staff. Because of the opportunity for mutually beneficial training prospects at the tactical level, SOCEUR and CONUS-based forces will conduct multiple JCETs, and other activities with POLSOCOM in FY12, culminating in SOCEUR’s perennial combined joint-force special-operations component-command exercise, Jackal Stone. All of these activities support POLSOCOM’s ability to project full spectrum special-operations tasks at all levels. In Afghanistan, two U.S. SOF joint-planning assistance teams have evolved since 2008, when they first began their assignment with two Polish SOTGs. The SOCEUR model of a JPAT consists of between four and six SOF operators (some combination of operations, communications, medical and intelligence specialists, depending on the situation). The purpose of this element is to assist the partner-nation SOF to operate at its full capacity given the assets available and the large range of actors in service in the region. Seamless execution of SOF missions enabled by required resources is the end state. Together, the U.S. JPATs partnered with Polish SOTGs are having significant successes training their Afghan National Police PRCs and building their capability to operate and stabilize their province in Afghanistan.
Like Poland, Romania has been a tremendous ally to the United States. Romania was able to transition from U.S. command in OEF to ISAF SOF in 2007. This commitment has grown from a single special-operations task unit (ODA equivalent in NATO terms) to a SOTG with three SOTUs, more than a 300 percent increase in commitment and responsibility. As with POLSOCOM, partnering with ROMSOFCOM occurs at every level. Due to the fact that ROMSOF are not collocated with general-purpose forces from their home country as in the Polish model, ROMSOF in Afghanistan require a slightly larger partnering element from U.S. SOF.
SOCEUR has positioned a SOF representative in Romania to coordinate and integrate U.S. and Romanian SOF advancement tasks. In FY12, SOCEUR and CONUS forces will conduct more than a dozen mutually beneficial activities. One activity occurred in February and March 2011 when a U.S. SOF ODB and ODA partnered with a ROMSOF company and two SOTUs. This engagement culminated with a Joint Maneuver Readiness Center rotation in Hohenfels, Germany, which included partner operations with the U.S. Infantry Brigade Combat Team that the Romanians would eventually work with in Afghanistan. The Romanians will also participate in Exercise Jackal Stone 2012.
In Afghanistan, as ROMSOF has expanded its deployed formations, U.S. SOF partnering has evolved to assist in maintaining full operational opportunities to assets in country. With each rotation of forces, U.S. SOF-partnered elements have evolved to assist ROMSOF’s growth. Many variables drive the command decision from the size and capability of the U.S. SOF partnership elements with the ROMSOF elements. The dominant variables are the enemy, relocations on the battlefield and growth of Romanian enabling capabilities. ROMSOF are proving to be exceptionally skilled and valued partners in training their PRCs to effectively operate in a COIN environment.
Czech forces have continued to assist in Afghanistan. In 2011, the nature of their commitment changed as they deployed a SOTG to operate as a task force assigned to ISAF SOF. Unique to this deployment was the fact that this SOTG operated within its own command and support structure. To date, USSOCOM and SOCEUR have not assigned a SOLO or SOFREP to provide persistent institutional-level assistance with Czech SOF but high-level engagements occur regularly.
Due to the size of Czech SOF, bilateral SOF-training opportunities in Europe are limited. Nevertheless, SOCEUR-assigned and CONUS SOF conduct between six to eight formal events per year. Our most intense effort is supporting the development of a Czech rotary-wing capability to support the Czech special-operations formations while deployed. The development of this special-operations aviation task unit will significantly increase the aggregate Czech SOF capacity.
In Afghanistan, Czech SOF have proven extraordinarily effective. Because of their extensive experience operating in various places over the past years in OEF, they were uniquely positioned to excel in a more independent role. As expected, U.S. SOF partnering has drawn down as Czech SOF established relationships and operational networks that require little U.S. assistance. Through thorough planning, pre-mission training and reconnaissance, Czech SOF have demonstrated a mastery of FID/MA in a relatively short time with their PRC in Afghanistan.
These three case studies illustrate the effects of a small investment of U.S. SOF engagement from the strategic to the tactical level in terms of strengthening interoperability and exporting a FID/MA capability. In the course of engagement, our alliance is strengthening and our aggregate capabilities are expanding.
In discussion with our partners, several advanced capabilities are desired to expand current inherent capabilities to conduct a broad range of SOF tasks — among those are FID/MA. These initiatives to strengthen our partners can fall into three categories: individual, collective and enabling.
Individual. To be operationally self-supporting and conduct FID/MA in a deployed environment, some of our partner nations desire advanced specialized individual intelligence, medical and communications qualifications. During the last 10 years, U.S. SOF have developed an effective system to understand the various networks that support an active or nascent insurgency. Our partners desire the transferable aspects of this capability. As we become more interdependent with our partners, intelligence sharing and exchanging techniques are paramount to our operational effectiveness while building partnerships based on trust.
U.S. SOF possess advanced organic medical capabilities, which are taught at SWCS’s Joint Special Operations Medical Training Facility. Developing operators to possess a similar capability is essential for our partners given they support similar operations. As we contemplate the post-Afghanistan era and consider FID/ MA in other environments, distances to significant medical support will lengthen and require a greater organic medical capability in the deployed SOF formations.
Communications expertise and networks have advanced through multiple technological generations. During the last decade, we have become more dependent on bandwidth, data and video teleconferencing. The ability to set up, maintain and troubleshoot these systems while remaining up to date on new equipment is evolving into a full-time training endeavor. U.S. SOF communicators are positioned with industry to remain current. In all environments and for all tasks, including FID/MA, senior political and military leadership will require robust and responsive communications.
Collective. From a collective-task perspective, SOF elements are evolving to conduct full spectrum SOF within larger and more diverse multi-lateral command and control elements; ISAF SOF in Afghanistan is a perfect example. For NATO partners and members of the NATO Special Operations Headquarters, the deployable building block for SOF is the SOTG. These building blocks must be commanded and controlled by a multi-lateral headquarters. Thus, the development of functioning SOTGs and rehearsing a range of tactical-, operational- and strategic-level C2 structure is necessary.
Over many decades, U.S. SOF engagement at the ODA level has created a great number of highly qualified shooters. But only in the last few years, has it been extended to the SOTG-level of training and higher echelons been able to advance our partners’ capability and willingness to take on FID/MA missions. Continued focus on SOTG and special operation task-force development is vital to creating self-sustaining formations that can deploy to conduct long-term FID/ MA.
Jackal Stone, a significant multinational exercise, combines a joint-forces special-operations command at the operational level of war. Regularly attended by between 10 to 15 partner nations, this exercise is based on FID/MA in a COIN environment and exercises a multi-lateral CJFSOCC. Partner-nation SOF staff officers outnumber their U.S. counterparts by at least 3 to 1 across every staff section and working group.
While the training objective of Jackal Stone is to rehearse a CJFSOCC, some of the best training is experienced at the SOTG level. Emphasis at this level of engagement for JCETs, pre-mission training and JMRC rotations has significantly expanded the potential mission set for our partner nations. Moreover, focus at this level of command has resulted in capable leaders and staffs who are able to sustain lengthy commitments.
Essential. The U.S. military possesses certain assets, some essential to full-spectrum FID/MA, which are not easily replicable by our partner nations. These assets can be prohibitively expensive for most of our partners when economies of scale are not attained.
Among these assets are communications networks, fixed- and rotary-wing aviation and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance systems. While certain countries are programming to acquire some of these capabilities, it is more likely that coordination across the entire SOF community to procure compatible systems will be the most affordable course of action. In this way, SOF operates more as a system of coordinating parts. Multilateral headquarters, extensive use of liaisons and partnering elements, i.e. JPATs, are just a few of the mitigating efforts that can integrate full-spectrum SOF efforts. Efforts from USSOCOM, NATO Special Operations Headquarters and SOCEUR are attempting to incorporate the European SOF enterprise at all levels to realize the full potential of an integrated SOF approach to achieving mutual national interests.
Partnering with and strengthening our European allied SOF to perform FID/MA in places where our mutual interests intersect is a worthy investment of resources. Preparing and advising our partners at all levels of command strengthens their ability and expands the aggregate capacity of the SOF enterprise to perform SOF tasks. Persistent and episodic engagements with our European SOF partners will continue to further the objectives of shaping the political and military environment, preventing insurgencies, deterring conflict and influencing foreign attitudes within and beyond EUCOM’s boundaries.
Col. Buck Dellinger is the director of operations (J3), Special Operations Command Europe based at Patch Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany. As a Special Forces officer he served as a detachment commander in the 10th SF Group (Airborne); commander of the Military Free-fall School; director of operations (S3), 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne); director of operations (J3) for CJSOTF-Arabian Penninsula in Iraq, and a battalion commander in the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division. In the summer of 2012, he will take command of Fort Campbell, Ky.
1. In Afghanistan today, of the 40,000 non-U.S. troops on the ground — more than 37,600, or roughly 94 percent — come from America’s allies and partners in Europe. The preceding fact was reported in The New Atlanticist, http://www.acus.org/new_atlanticist, on 12 January 2012 in John R. Deni, “Interoperability in an Age of Austerity.”
2. Allied Joint Publication 3.5 defines military assistance as, “A broad spectrum of measures in support of Allied forces in peace, crisis and conflict. Military assistance can be conducted by, with or through indigenous or surrogate forces that are trained, equipped, supported or employed in varying degrees by special-operations forces.”
3. Staff work is underway at USSOCOM to determine the best title for the special-operations liaison officers who are assigned around the world with critical partners. This title may be replaced with another title such as special-operations forces representative.