Special Operations Command, Europe (SOCEUR)
Special Operations Command, Europe (SOCEUR) is responsible to Commander, US European Command/Supreme Allied Commander, Europe for special operations forces readiness, targeting, exercises, plans, joint and combined training, NATO/partnership activities, and execution of counterterrorism, peacetime and contingency operations. SOCEUR is a subordinate unified command of US European Command (EUCOM) exercising operational control of theater Army, Navy, and Air Force special operation forces.
Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) traces its lineage to the establishment of Support Operations Command Europe in Paris, France on 22 January 1955. This headquarters provided peacetime planning and operational control of special operations forces during unconventional warfare in the EUCOM area of responsibility. The headquarters was reorganized as a joint task force within EUCOM on 4 May 1955 and redesignated as Support Operations Task Force Europe (SOTFE). SOTFE headquarters transferred from Paris to Panzer Kaserne near Stuttgart, Germany on 9 January 1967. To clarify SOTFE's role with other agencies, the SOTFE was redesignated Special Operations Task Force Europe (also SOTFE) effective 1 September 1978 and assigned to EUCOM headquarters.
SOTFE was redesignated Special Operations Command, Europe (SOCEUR) on 1 November 1983 and established as a subordinate unified command of EUCOM on 30 May 1986. SOCEUR also functioned as the Special Operations Division of the EUCOM Operations Directorate.
Newly independent states, which came into existence or back into existence following the collapse of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991, simultaneously began the process of changing their institutions from authoritarian to democratic and from provincial to national. While some successfully took their place on the world stage as democracies, others had reverted to authoritarianism, and a few were split by severe ethnic divisions. This became an emerging region for EUCOM and SOCEUR. Initial efforts in this area have focused on regional assessments and teaching these nations the role of the military in a democracy. Special operations forces played a key role in the region by providing eyes and ears in a region still plagued by uncertainty and instability.
In the conflicts in the Balkans during the 1990s, joint special operations forces, under the direction of Commander, SOCEUR, were employed to expand the range of military options available to Commander in Chief, Europe. Most notable were 2 successful combat recoveries of American pilots downed by enemy fire over Serbia. Additionally, civil affairs and psychological operations forces provided immeasurable assistance in the ever-evolving process of modern day warfare. The Balkans historically demanded world attention and special operations forces were expected to continue to play a central role in this volatile region.
In 1998, SOCEUR sponsored the first Newly In dependant States Special Operations Forces conference held offsite in Stuttgart, Germany. This benchmark event brought military personnel from Moldova, Georgia, and the Ukraine together to view U.S. SOF demonstrations and discuss opportunities for future Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) and Joint Contact Team Program (JCTP) events. International interest and tensions in the region are expected to dramatically increase as resident deposits of oil and minerals are developed. Accordingly, development of SOF familiarity and experience in the region is becoming a high priority.
As a sub-unified command for special operations, Commander, SOCEUR provided operational direction and control of special operations, civil affairs, and psychological operations forces in the EUCOM area of responsibility by the early 2000s. Comprised of Army, Air Force, and Navy special operations forces stationed in Europe, SOCEUR routinely received augmentation from continental US-based forces to accomplish its assigned tasks. From these varied assets, Commander, SOCEUR formed task forces capable of executing special operations, as well as conducting assessments and response to crises throughout the EUCOM area of responsibility. Commander, SOCEUR also functioned as Director, Special Operations Directorate of the EUCOM staff to provide theater strategic input and advice to the theater commander concerning special operations.
Readiness to respond to crises was SOCEUR's highest priority as reflected by its motto: Semper Preparate (Always Prepared). SOCEUR sustained its unique warfighting capabilities to successfully respond to the full spectrum of crisis, from trans-national threats, through the myriad forms of smaller-scale contingencies, to major theater war. SOCEUR's area of responsibility exhibited the full range of human conditions and the strategic environment was correspondingly diverse. In many cases, US presence was welcomed on a bilateral, or more often multilateral, basis. US presence was minimal in many cases, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, due to the size of the theater. US relationships in the area of responsibility as of 2000 had formed a foundation for US leadership, participation, and collective action against threats to regional security. SOCEUR managed its engagement programs on a country-by-country basis and followed the EUCOM lead by dividing its area of responsibility into several regions for easier manageability.
Western Europe continued to be the stable anchor within the area of responsibility. The template for stability and cooperation in the region was NATO. US special operations forces trained with NATO air, land, and sea special operations forces in all climates and terrain, from the frozen fjords of Norway to the sweltering deserts of Africa. Interoperability, combined command and control, and the exchange of methods and tactics ensure the US and its allies were ready to conduct combined or coordinated special operations anywhere in the theater. SOCEUR had been in the forefront of integrating new member nations into the NATO alliance, including helping to assess, train, and exercise with host-nation special operations forces assets. Special operations forces could be a relatively inexpensive option to countries looking to make a viable but affordable contribution to NATO's force structure.
By the end of the 1990s, Central Europe was experiencing a new wave of nationalism and, to a lesser degree, ultra-nationalism. The end of communism had revealed long-suppressed internal and external security issues involving intractable ethnic/religious hatreds and old boundary disputes rooted in modern history. Political opportunists were seizing on these issues to acquire national leadership positions. The risk of political instability within the developing central European democracies, particularly the Balkan states, remained high.
SOCEUR's operations and activities reflected the EUCOM strategic objectives to promote peace and stability and defeat adversaries. SOCEUR played an important role in promoting peace and shaping the international environment in the EUCOM area of responsibility by reducing the conditions that lead to conflict. Until 2008, EUCOM was the second largest geographic area of responsibility in the unified combatant command structure. Spanning 3 continents and encompassing 89 countries, its geographical area encompassed 13 million square miles and was home for more than one billion people. EUCOM was a dynamic theater in conflict. To accomplish its theater objectives, EUCOM relied heavily on SOCEUR to provide timely unconventional military options. Key SOCEUR engagement activities included Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) events, the Joint Contact Team Program (JCTP), the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), and humanitarian demining operations.
JCETs were training activities that fulfilled special operations forces unit training and Commander in Chief, Europe engagement needs in countries throughout the theater. This combination of training and engagement allowed special operations forces units to perform mission-essential tasks and regionally focused training while simultaneously establishing US presence and influence in priority engagement countries.
The JCTP was a Commander in Chief, Europe initiative to provide greater US military interaction with former Warsaw Pact countries and Soviet client states. As part of the JCTP, special operations forces units provided excellent models for these nations to emulate in their evolving militaries. ACRI was a Department of State initiative to develop the capabilities of selected African countries to respond to regional crises with capable, professional, indigenous military forces. Humanitarian demining was a joint venture between the Departments of State and Defense. This program continued to save hundreds of lives each year throughout the EUCOM area of responsibility by training host-nation personnel in demining and in educating the public on the dangers of landmines and unexploded ordnance.
To counter threats in its area of responsibility, SOCEUR had joined former Warsaw Pact forces to develop special operations forces that met NATO standards for interoperability. JCETs conducted in Central Europe provided unique training opportunities for each of SOCEUR's component forces. They also served to demonstrate the strengths and capabilities of the US military, as well as the benefits of a responsible and well-trained, professional NCO corps. This was a capability normally lacking in Soviet-modeled forces.
Africa, also part of the EUCOM area of responsibility, was a complex and diverse region with many countries evolving into clusters of stability and instability. While some were prosperous and semi- or fully democratic, others were stagnating under non-democratic military or civilian leaders, and a few were consistently chaotic due to coups, civil wars, or lack of a strong, central government. Special operations forces represented the greatest percentage of American "boots on the ground" in this vast continent. Conduct of ACRI and humanitarian demining training under the auspices of SOCEUR had a demonstrable stabilizing influence in this unstable part of the world. Likewise, port visits and coastal maritime engagement programs maintain a critical presence in areas where other US forces either could not or would not go. A very active JCET program permitted each of the 3 special operations forces components of SOCEUR to routinely train in an environment that had precipitated 4 responses to crises by SOCEUR forces. SOCEUR had been heavily engaged in a variety of foreign internal defense, non-combatant evacuation, and direct action missions in Africa during the 1990s.
The projected future strategic environment for EUCOM was one in which there would be fewer "wars," but more conflict. Failed states, transnational threats, humanitarian crises, and rogue states that sought to leverage instability were certain to result in the increased employment of US special operation forces. SOCEUR was to continue to provide the "point of the spear" for operations throughout the theater, whether to engage to prevent conflict, thwart terrorism, stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or to respond to crises with precision and strength to restore peace and stability.
Following the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, SOCEUR immediately became heavily engaged to counter terrorism and other extremism within its area of responsibility, primarily Africa. Of great concern were the so-called "ungoverned spaces" in the Sahel or Trans-Sahara region. In 2002, the Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI) was established, which transitioned into the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) in 2005. ACRI had also transformed into the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program in 2004. Operation Enduring Freedom - Trans Sahara (OEF-TS) also began in 2005. SOCEUR heavily supported these efforts, providing forces to Joint Special Operations Task Force - Trans Sahara (JSOTF-TS). OEF-TS also eventually absorbed areas which had been covered by Operation Aztec Silence in North Africa.
Following a decision to refocus efforts in Africa in 2007, the US Department of Defense established a separate unified command for the continent in October 2008. US Africa Command (AFRICOM), and its subordinate theater special operations command, Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA), subsequently took over responsibility for various SOCEUR efforts on the continent. SOCEUR continued to provide support to SOCAFRICA, however. SOCEUR also continued to provide special operations support in the revised EUCOM area of responsibility.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list