The deployment of US Special Operations Forces in Europe is never in spotlight but it is rapidly increasing. There can be no other purpose than acquisition of capability to deliver strikes deep into Russia’s territory.
The Trump administration is relying heavily on Special Operations Forces (SOF). They are deployed to 137 countries or 70% of them in the world. At least 8,000 of SOF are operating in around 80 countries at any given moment. The numbers have ballooned from a few thousands in the 1980s to 70,000 at present. In 2016, the US deployed special operators to Taiwan, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Laos, the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan. In 2006, 3 percent of special operators deployed overseas were in Europe. In 2016, the number topped 12 percent.
Much has been said recently about SOF operations in Africa, which are going to expand and intensify. Formally, they are on train and assist missions to counter terrorist threats. But one can hardly imagine the need to deploy such special purpose forces from overseas to fight terrorists in the Old Continent.
The United States increased the presence of SOF in Europe four times last year. The forces are mainly deployed near Russia’s borders, including such countries as the Baltic States, Romania, Poland, Ukraine and Georgia. In 2017, SOF have deployed to more than 20 European countries.
In March, SOF (Army Green Berets) trained along local troops in Lapland, Finland, during exercise Northern Griffin 2017. In May, Navy SEALs were part of exercise Flaming Sword 17 in Lithuania. In June, members of the US 10th Special Forces Group trained near Lubliniec, Poland. In July, naval SOF took part in Sea Breeze annual military exercise in Ukraine. In August, special-tactics combat controllers from the 321st Special Tactics Squadron surveyed the two-lane highway, deconflicted airspace and exercised command and control on the ground and in the air to land A-10s from the Maryland Air National Guard's 104th Fighter Squadron on the Jägala-Käravete Highway, Estonia. Also in August, SOF took part in Exercise Noble Partner in Georgia.
According to Major Michael Weisman, a spokesman for US Special Operations Command Europe, “Outside of Russia and Belarus we train with virtually every country in Europe either bilaterally or through various multinational events.”
In April-May, 2017, Naval Special Warfare operators from US Special Operations Command along with NATO special operations forces from Albania, Bulgaria and Lithuania took part in exercise Saber Junction 17 at the Joint Multinational Readiness Centre in Germany. Ukraine and Georgia were among participating countries. In addition to the integration of US SOF, a simulated resistance force was introduced into the exercise through the use of the Lithuanian National Volunteer Defence Force.
American commandos have deployed quietly to the Baltic States. Dozens of United States Special Operations forces have a “persistent” presence there to train special operators.
This year, a United States National Guard Special Forces group based in Birmingham, Alabama, was tasked with learning the Russian language, including military terminology, as well as history, culture and traditions in what appears to be a preliminary phase of a potential overseas operation. This is the start of a five-year program to prepare National Guard SOF. The language course is expected to last from three to six weeks. It includes military terminology and the practical application of command terms. In addition, instructors are supposed to provide an overview of regional cultural awareness, including important dates and personalities.
The SOF are deployed in the proximity of Russia’s borders under the pretext of defending the allies scared of potential “Russian aggression”. If they were, they would ask for general purpose forces, such as Army units, equipped with defensive weapon systems to protect their borders. They would not need SOF, which are offensive strike units just like US Marines in Norway. Instructors specializing in defensive operations, not SOF, are needed to prepare forces for repelling adversary’s attacks. What SOF and Marines can teach is the art of carrying out first strikes. Their deployment in Europe is never in spotlight but it is rapidly increasing. There can be no other purpose than acquisition of capability to deliver strikes deep into Russia’s territory.