Does the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Special Operations Forces (SOF) need a Counterterrorism (CT) capability? Currently the three mission sets for NATO SOF are Direct Action (DA), Special Reconnaissance (SR), and Military Assistance (MA). For many years NATO SOF has been participating in the military assistance mission in Afghanistan – working with the special police units of the Afghan Ministry of Interior. SOF units of NATO nations have participated in many other conflict areas in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere. However, there is no defined counterterrorism mission for NATO SOF; although individual NATO countries have extremely capable CT forces (USA’s Delta, British SAS, etc.).
“NATO Special Operations Forces (SOF) provide capabilities that complement those of NATO air, maritime and land forces and are relevant across the full range of military operations. These SOF capabilities are also applicable to the Alliances’s core tasks of collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security. The NATO Special Operations Headquarters (NSHQ) is the primary point of development, coordination and direction for all NATO Special Operations activities.” 1.
With the growth of the Islamic State across the world and the emergence of Islamic State operatives operating in Europe, the vexing problem of ‘returning fighters’, and home-grown radical terrorists aligned with the Islamic State it may be time for a doctrinal shift within NATO concerning NATO SOF and the CT mission. Currently, if NATO had to react to a CT threat (under Article 5) it can only do it with NATO nations acting unilaterally with their own CT forces. It is acknowledged that the NATO SOF Headquarters (NSHQ) could play a very important coordination role.
The more mature NATO member states (UK, USA, Germany, France, etc.) have a robust CT capability. Many of the younger NATO members (those that joined after the fall of the Soviet Union) do not have sufficient CT organizations to counter a determined terrorist organization. If one of these nations invoked Article 5 how would NATO respond? Perhaps now is the time to consider Counterterrorism as one of four NATO SOF missions? Read more on this topic in an article entitled “NATO Special Operations Forces, Counterterrorism, and the Resurgence of Terrorism in Europe”, Military Review, July-August 2016.
See Special Operations Forces, NATO, February 24, 2015.
NATO SOF Headquarters
NATO Special Operations Forces
NATO SOF Linked In